I-Team: Thefts, Leaks Frequent At West Fertilizer Plant
WEST (CBS 11 NEWS) – For a facility that had the potential to destroy everything around it, law enforcement records show the West Fertilizer Co. was easy for thieves and burglars to access. Call records and reports from the McClennan County Sheriff’s Department show at least 14 burglary and theft calls, and 8 reports of ammonia leaks dating back to 2002. The reports show that at one point in 2002, the plant was being hit by ammonia thieves as often as every three days.
As recently as October someone driving by the business reported an ammonia smell strong enough to burn your eyes. An investigation showed there was no need for evacuation, but it appeared someone had been “messing with the valve” on one of the tanks.
There is little mention of increasing security on the site, outside of changing locks during a series of break-ins in late 2008. At one point the sheriff’s department suggested that the company install surveillance or security. The reports say the plant manager was “not very responsive to the idea of having to spend money to put in a security system.” A later burglary report showed cameras had been installed, but that the quality was poor.
There is no mention in the reports of tampering with the ammonium nitrate on the site. The state chemist’s office indicated in a hearing in Austin Wednesday that nitrate sellers are required to secure the product. Ben Jones, and associate director, said perimeter fencing, sometimes with razor wire is typical. The product itself could be in a building or storage area that is locked and secured.
Chief Deputy Matt Cawthon described the security level as being relaxed. Customers often would pick up farm items late, and return to pay the next day. Many of the burglaries or thefts involved farm equipment, or minor break-ins where office computers were used and little stolen.
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