Gov. Norm Bangerter plans to meet with legislative leaders in the next few days to consider whether calling a special session July 20 would help lure a major rocket fuel company to Utah.
Members of a legislative joint committee on community and economic development voted unanimously Wednesday to ask Bangerter to call the session to give the state authority to issue bonds to finance a speedy construction of a $33 million plant near Cedar City.The rocket fuel facility of Pacific Engineering and Production Co., also called PEPCON, in Henderson, Nev., accidentally blew up two months ago. The company is looking for a site to rebuild and is considering a spot near Cedar City. PEPCON also will seek money from the federal government.
If a special session is called, it would be the second this month.
Senate President Arnold Christensen, R-Sandy, said Friday that senators would be willing to meet in a short session July 20, the Legislature's regular interim study day. "I can't say we'd approve a bond, but we're willing to consider it."
House Majority Leader Nolan Karras, R-Roy, said he doesn't have a feel if House Republicans are interested in such a session. The session would take place without several Democratic leaders in the Senate and House who will be in Atlanta for the Democratic National Convention next week.
But, even if Utah lawmakers decide to help, company officials can't guarantee they will move to Utah. They also are considering two sites in Nevada, where the state already is empowered to issue bonds on their behalf, said C. Keith Rooker, executive vice president of PEPCON.
The company also may decide where to build before the Legislature meets. Rooker said company officials were prepared to select a site by the end of this week or early next week.
"The special session may cause us to wait," he said, adding the state's chances of attracting the company would be harmed if financing were not made available.
PEPCON officials are in a hurry because they guaranteed their largest customers, NASA and Utah-based Morton Thiokol, they would be operating again Feb. 1. The company is one of only two that manufactures ammonium perchlorate rocket fuel which is critical for the space shuttle and the U.S. armed forces.
In order to meet the deadline, construction must begin Aug. 1, Rooker said. The plant will be designed as it is being built.
The company's previous plant was leveled May 4 by a series of explosions that caused damage to buildings throughout the Las Vegas valley. Rooker said he believes the accident was caused by a natural gas leak under the plant.
Rather than rebuild in Henderson, company officials decided to move to a remote area.
Iron County Commissioner Jim Robinson said the plant would do wonders for the economy of Southern Utah.
"We can utilize desert land not utilizeable in any other way," he said. "We can see spinoff after spinoff coming from this."
The idea of issuing bonds received unanimous support from committee members.
If PEPCON came to Utah, a 100,000-square-foot plant would be built 15 miles northwest of Cedar City. It would employ up to 130 people. Rooker said employees in Henderson would be given the opportunity to move to the new site.
"Many of these employees have been there 15 to 20 years," said Fred Gibson, company chairman. "We feel compelled to offer them the jobs, but we don't know how many of them would come."
The company likes the site because it is near a railroad and because Southern Utah State College is nearby. They are concerned, however, about the weather being too cold and wet.
"Washington County would be ideal, but they don't have rail," Rooker said.
The other two sites are both in Nevada's Clark County. One is on an Indian reservation, where it may be difficult to get permission to build, and the other has no rail, Gibson said.