Imperial Sugar Plans to Rebuild Port Wentworth Facility

PORT WENTWORTH, GA (WTOC) - The scenery is a little different these days at the Imperial Sugar plant. Debris and buildings around where the trains came in and out of the plant and the pallet area are gone. Demolition crews are working to remove one of the towers, all heavily damaged in the blast.

Imperial Sugar CEO John Sheptor sees the demolition as progress. They're now one step closer to rebuilding the plant. "Our intent is to build one of the most modern sugar packaging plants in the country and establish a model way of managing sugar in packaging operations," explained Sheptor.

OSHA and the Chemical Safety Board continue to investigate the explosion. They still have no concrete reason as to why the plant exploded. Still, they gave their consent to the Imperial Sugar Board of Directors to move forward with the demolition of some parts of the plant and to rebuild. "The Board of Directors have been very supportive with regard to intent to rebuild and restart operations here," said Sheptor. "That has not been a matter of question in that regard."

In fact, engineers have already been out at the site, constructing plans for the new plant and packaging facility. Exciting news for Fire Chief and long time Port Wentworth resident, Greg Long. "It's also going to, I think, allow the healing process to begin with residents who have lived here, that are so used to having Imperial Sugar operating with them," he told us.

A feeling Sheptor believes resonates with employees as well. 275 employees are back working at the plant. That's out of 371 that worked there before the explosion. "There's a lot of activity going on here," Sheptor said. "People are happy to be back at work. They're looking forward to restarting this factory."

Sheptor says they plan to be back up to full staff by the end of May.

On Monday, employees will begin washing sugar that has been stuck in equipment since the blast. According to Sheptor, that will be the last step before getting the plant up and running again. They hope to do that by fall.

The new packaging plant should be open by next summer. Engineers are still in the preliminary stages in designing the new facility. They should be able to show us those sketches, and give us an idea on cost in about two months.

Reported by: Melanie A. Ruberti, mruberti@wtoc.com