Janesville63.1°

Chemical company starting cleanup

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JAMES P. LEUTE
June 27, 2008
— Production should return to normal next week at the Evonik Goldschmidt chemical company in Janesville, but the cleanup from Rock River flooding will last much longer.

About 50 percent of the sprawling facility on South Palm Street was under up to 14 inches of water earlier this week.


Early in the flooding, city officials estimated the plant had suffered $15 million in damages, but company officials said Wednesday they have no idea what the final tally will be.


“It’s too early to know, and anything I say would be pure speculation,” said Dieter Bettinger, Evonik’s site manager at the Janesville plant that has about 75 employees and produces ingredients used in everyday products such as shampoos, deodorants and shower gels.


“We are beginning to assess the situation and believe the damage to be not severe,” he said. “Since the water is receding, we have been able to start inspecting the plant. We want to get back to normal production as quickly—and as safely—as possible.”


While Bettinger isn’t certain of the unprecedented flood’s damage, he know it would have been much worse without the forecasting work of city and other officials.


“We got excellent information from the city,” said Bettinger, whose plant sits along the river just south of the Monterey Bridge. “They measured our elevations and told us exactly what to expect.”


Plant officials attended a city meeting June 12 and immediately took steps to shut down the plant’s production by noon on Saturday, June 14. Trucked-in limestone shored up the river’s banks, and 10-man crews filled and hauled more than 1,500 sandbags.


Other employee crews quickly set about disconnecting and removing motors and pumps. Some still were damaged by the floodwaters and have been sent out for drying and testing.


Evonik, like other business and homeowners, faces a fair share of electrical rewiring. While the plant was back to about 20 percent of its full production on Wednesday, it buzzed with contractors working on the flood damage or doing maintenance projects that had been scheduled for later this summer.


Portions of the plant’s rail service are still under water and will need to be tested before Union Pacific can ship raw materials into the site.


Evonik continues to work closely with city, utility and Department of Natural Resources officials, Bettinger said, adding that there was never any danger of the plant’s chemicals mixing with floodwaters.


“Our top priority here is our culture of safety,” he said.


Under a variety of names, a chemical company has been in operation at the site for more than five decades.


Last year, Evonik celebrated the plant’s 50 years in Janesville, as well as a $6.6 million expansion that help’s the plant meet customer demands more efficiently.



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