Imperial Sugar files for bankruptcy, no plans to close local plant

February 10, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

Imperial Sugar, the parent company of Holly Sugar, which has a plant in rural Brawley, has filed for bankruptcy protection but company officials said that will not affect operations at the local plant.

Bill Schwer, executive vice president of Imperial Sugar, said Friday low sugar market prices are the key reason the company has struggled financially.

In December Imperial Sugar opted against making a $12.2 million payment to creditors.

Instead the company chose to restructure and in January it decided filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection was the best way to work through the restructuring.

Schwer said the company is expected in May to move beyond the bankruptcy filing and emerge from the restructuring solvent and stronger.


He said the Imperial Valley plant is one of the strongest facilities operated under the Imperial Sugar umbrella. Schwer said there are no plans to close the facility.

"It is one of our best sugar beet facilities," he said. "The factory makes a lot of sugar and it is very valuable to the Imperial group of factories."

The plant, one of only two Imperial Sugar is keeping open — the other is in Mendota — has 200 employees. The company closed plants in Tracy and Woodland in response to the financial problems.

Ben Goodwin, executive manager of the California Beet Growers Association, said Friday he thinks Imperial Sugar will keep open its plant in the Valley.

"As far as we can tell there will be no change," he said, adding if the plant did close it could be devastating to local beet growers who have contracts to provide beets to the plant.

Curtis Rutherford, head of the Imperial Valley advisory board to the California Beet Growers Association, is taking a wait-and-see stance regarding the future of Imperial Sugar.

However, he said he is confident the plant will remain unaffected through the upcoming beet season.

"That plant will remain in operation; that is the word we get," Rutherford said, adding he is sure growers will be paid as per their contracts with the plant.

Rutherford said local growers will continue to monitor the situation and if there are changes, growers might consider purchasing the plant.

"We will do what is in the best interest of growers," Rutherford said.

Schwer said market prices have been down 20 percent for a sustained period but prices are staring to rise a bit. He said Imperial Sugar is hoping it signals a change.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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