CEO John Sheptor says allegations are untrue - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

CEO John Sheptor says allegations are untrue

Imperial Sugar CEO John Sheptor. Imperial Sugar CEO John Sheptor.

By Brooke Kelley - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Imperial Sugar CEO John Sheptor tells WTOC he is very upset by the allegations from both OSHA and the company's vice president Graham H. Graham, who testified Tuesday about the dangerous conditions at the plant before the blast (see Imperial Sugar VP says conditions were shocking).

Today, Sheptor says some of the things Graham said were simply not true and at no time did Graham bring to his attention concerns about combustible dust hazards similar to pictures obtained by The Chemical Safety Board back in 2006.

Sheptor says he wants to know why Graham didn't force the plant to shut down if such conditions existed.

"He and I did talk on a number of occasions in regard to safety improvements which he was working on in the electrical area," said Sheptor. "It's unfortunate that historical photographs are being implied how that facility was that evening, in the end what we are talking about is what was the condition on the evening of February 7 and any of these conditions contributed to the risk of the facility."

Sheptor plans to use a series of emails between he and Graham to prove Graham's testimony is untrue. In those emails two weeks before the explosion, Graham claims the plant had made improvements and was even better than he thought.

The company is contesting the findings from OSHA and within the next couple of weeks, will sit down with investigators to go over each of the citations. But it could be weeks or months before we have an answers.

Tonight, there is a benefit for the refinery's relief fund to help families effected by this tragedy. So far, they sold more than 500 tickets raising more than $20,000.

The next step for Imperial Sugar is rebuilding the Port Wentworth plant. "We are transitioning from the engineering phase to the construction phase," said Sheptor.

Earlier this week, Imperial Sugar's board of directors approved the multi-million dollar contracts for that construction.

"In the next few weeks we will be issuing contracts with manufacturers and construction companies well in excess of $100 million we are excited and looking forward about building," said Sheptor.

But what impact will the nearly $9 million in fines imposed by OSHA have on the plant's progress? According to Sheptor, none.

"These are completely different independent. The decision to rebuild and operate in the future is based on economic opportunity in the sugar industry," he said. "The citations are allegations and we have no obligation to pay until completed."

Sheptor says while they are challenging the findings and fines, they are prepared to handle what happens next.

"This company has the resources to manage that part of the allegations," said Sheptor.

As for the employees, Sheptor says many have told him they are supporting the company.

"I have received emails from employees encouraging me about how they are giving the efforts to support the company and the rebuilding of the facility and thanking us for the safety they have seen in a number of years," said Sheptor.

Sheptor says Imperial Sugar has always put the safety of its employees first and will continue to do so.

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