State

Ammo company criticizes Riverbank over lost project

RIVERBANK — The contractor at the Army ammunition plant says it could not bid on a project that could have produced as many as 50 well-paying jobs as well as the investment of several million dollars because of the city's unresponsiveness.

NI Industries sent a letter Tuesday to the city outlining its reasons why it could not bid on a contract to produce mortar casings for at least five years. But the city said it worked with NI on the project and is not to blame.

NI operated the Riverbank Army Ammunition Plant from 1951 until April 1, when the Army transferred the plant to the city. The city envisions transforming the plant at Claribel and Claus roads into a job-rich industrial park.

NI produced cartridge casings and other components before ending production last year. It expects to stay as late as September as it transfers equipment and material to the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois.

But NI is pursuing other work that could bring jobs to the plant and keep NI here.

In its letter, NI said it needed two industrial presses to make the mortar casings.

The city said it had pledged those presses to another business, AM2T, a high-tech metallurgy startup with a couple of employees. AM2T has signed a lease for the presses, said Tim Ogden, Riverbank's economic development director.

"We already were in negotiations with another tenant," Ogden said. "NI's request was to pry it out of the other's hands and make it available for them. That was not only unethical but there would be legal consequences."

Riverbank and NI butted heads as the city worked toward acquiring the 173-acre plant, but Ogden said Wednesday that the city would welcome NI as a tenant.

He said the city worked with NI as it pursued the mortar casing project, adding that the city sent NI a draft lease agreement in early February, would help NI with grant funding, and had tried to find replacement equipment for the presses.

"We had not completed the lease agreement and the equipment was not available," he said. "That's the core issue. NI had a time constraint that could not be completed in time."

An NI official declined to comment Wednesday.

But in its letter, NI said the city did not respond to the company in a timely manner, and without assurances regarding the presses it could not compete for the contract.

NI said it would have invested $7 million at the plant, with more than $2 million of that benefiting local contractors and suppliers, if it had landed the contract.

NI also objected to a requirement to provide $25 million in environmental liability insurance. Ogden said that was done on the advice of the city's lawyers to protect the city.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or 578-2316.

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