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Miller Chemical rebuilds, fire prevention in mind

Written by Lillian Reed/Hanover Evening Sun | Feb 8, 2016 7:37 AM
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Miller Chemical and Fertilizer's warehouse on Radio Road, Conewago Township burns on June 8, 2015. Courtesy of 911 Photography

(Undated) -- Miller Chemical and Fertilizer is scheduled to complete construction of a new building by June 8, the one-year anniversary of the day a massive fire leveled its warehouse and caused $20 million in damages, officials said this week.

The company is rebuilding a $6 million warehouse in the exact footprint of the old structure, with fire prevention in mind.

Miller Chemical Vice President Mike Fiery and Conewago Enterprises Vice President Andy Brough presented updated plans for the building to the Hanover Borough and Conewago Township planning commissions this week.

Construction on the new building began in the fall, but the company wished to add several new parking spaces to the structure, prompting the meetings.

The new building, which exists solely in Conewago Township, was not required to create a new land development plan to rebuild according to the township's ordinances, Brough said Wednesday.

The building will feature 8-inch concrete exterior walls, a structural steel roof system and a sprinkler system that will notify local fire officials if activated, Brough said. The previous building was made of pre-cast concrete with multiple metal and wood pole additions.

It also did not have a sprinkler system because the state's building code did not require one at the time, Brough said. The new building, however, will have a system, in accordance with international building code, Brough said.

Hanover Borough Planning Commission member Timothy Seitz, who lived close to Miller Chemical at the time of the fire, took issue with the lack of a sprinkler system in the original building Wednesday.

"I hear that we stayed within the boundaries of the building in order to not have to go through as much scrutiny," Seitz said. "Reassure me so that I can go back and tell my neighbors that 'oh yes, they have a sprinkler system now.'"

Brough repeated that the sprinkler system was not needed in the older building according to building code and that even in retrospect, he did not agree that the building had needed one.

"I would respectfully say to you Mr. Sietz that I've never experienced anyone in my time that has put a sprinkler system in a building when the code did not require it," Brough said. "The code was created for a reason. The code, through a lot of research and study, recommends when you do and don't need a sprinkler system."

Scott Roland, another member of the planning commission, pointed out that Sietz might find reassurance in the fact that Fiery himself also lives within five minutes of the Miller Chemical site.

"The facility has been there for well over 60 years without an issue," Fiery said.

In addition to the sprinklers and concrete exterior, the building will enlarge a retention pond on the property to be able to hold 150,000 gallons of water, Brough said. The pond will also have a valve attached to a low-flow orifice at the bottom of the pond that is capable of being closed in the event of another fire, he said.

During the June 8 fire, the existing retention pond, which was significantly smaller, overflowed with contaminated water that worked its way into the Conewago Creek, killing more than 10,000 fish, officials said at the time.

With the new pond, firefighters could use the maximum amount of water on the site for one hour before the pond would be overwhelmed.

Miller Chemical officials have also worked with Southeastern Adams Volunteer Emergency Services to install four fire hydrants surrounding the site. Previously, there had only been one, Brough said.

Both Hanover and Conewago planning commissions approved the plans for the parking spaces.

In the meantime, Miller Chemical is facing a $6.9 million federal lawsuitfrom Environmental Products and Services of Vermont, a service hired to assist in cleanup efforts following the fire. Environmental Products and Services alleged that Miller Chemical has not fully paid their bill for the services.

Fiery declined to comment on the pending litigation Wednesday.

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