In a dramatic move, the Hanford City Council voted unanimously last week to help Helena Chemical Co., a large fertilizer retailer in east Hanford, find a new home out of the path of development.
The move averts a crisis in a less-developed part of the city that is on the cusp of long-term retail, commercial and residential development as envisioned in the city’s pending general plan.
The council approved a letter of intent to give Helena Chemical a hunk of property that the city owns in the Hanford Industrial Park south of town, in exchange for the company’s 18-acre site, and to assist in relocation.
The carrot for the city is that it clears the way for the much-anticipated Costco project at Highway 43 and Lacey Boulevard, across the street from Helena.
“It’s a win for Costco, it’s a win for Helena and it’s a win for the city overall,” Mayor Gary Pannett said.
The drama intensified Nov. 18 when the council voted 3-2 to allow Helena to expand at its current location, pending a second vote to affirm the first one.
Helena plammed to build a warehouse to mix liquid fertilizers.
Opponent Richard Harriman, an environmental lawyer representing some Hanford residents, said that if a fire erupted, a toxic plume of smoke might descend on Costco.
But Steve Alexander, vice president of the western business unit for Helena Chemical Co., said fertilizers at the site aren’t explosive, the plant has a close relationship with the fire department, and an emergency response plan is in place.
Helena is not a fertilizer manufacturer, but mixes nitrogen, potash and phosphates in ratios that the customer needs, he said.
“I use the analogy of buying paint,” he said. “At Home Depot, they take a base and add dye. We’ll mix fertilizer to feed the plant.”
Helena publicly supported Costco’s plan to move to the neighborhood, he said.
But after the council voted for Helena’s expansion, Costco developer John Kashian of Fresno told the city that the project had been put on hold, City Manager Darrel Pyle said.
As the jolting news made its way into the community, council members started getting complaints that it’s wrong to poke Costco in the eye.
But the mayor said it would have been wrong to say no to Helena, which has had a presence in the community for decades and is on a site used for fertilizers since the 1950s.
“We had to approve it,” Pannett said. “We don’t want to lose Helena. It’s a good clean business that supports our farming and our ag.”
But with Costco balking, the pressure to find a way out quickly mounted.
“That was a lot of heavy lifting by the council in short order,” Pyle said in the wake of the vote a week later to help Helena relocate.
The council also voted not to go forward with its initial approval of Helena’s expansion.
Moving to the industrial park is not a new idea, Alexander said.
“We’ve been talking about that with the city for two years,” but details must still be worked out, he said.
Pyle said the city is grateful to Helena for being so accommodating.
“Helena has been a good corporate neighbor,” Pyle said. “They are looking for a long-term solution.”
It helps that the city was already preparing to take a bite out of Helena’s current property in a road realignment, and can now use those funds to move a truck scale and more to the new site, he said.
Meanwhile, Costco has come around, Pyle said: “We have been notified by the developer that they are full speed ahead.”