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PLANNERS VOTE 3-2 ON HERCULES BUILDING

A divided Salt Lake County Planning Commission has recommended that Hercules Aerospace be allowed to replace a $15 million rocket fuel-mixing building gutted by a fiery explosion March 29.

But the decision - a 3-2 vote following an hourlong hearing Tuesday - seems certain to be appealed by Magna residents who pleaded for a one-month delay to assess possible safety threats a new building may pose.County commissioners, who have the final say on the Hercules proposal, approved a similar project last year over the negative recommendation of the Planning Commission and residents' appeals.

Jack F. DeMann, Hercules director of public affairs, said a report on the cause of the midnight explosion that heavily damaged Building No. 2, the aerospace industry's largest propellant mixing facility, is due for release later this week.

Some 25,000 pounds of fuel ignited while being cast by remote control in a Delta II rocket motor. No one was inside the mixing facility, and no property damage outside the building was reported.

Hercules will not rebuild the damaged structure but will construct a new mixing facility on a more remote location of its Bacchus West works.

"Nothing will be changed. It will be a duplicate of the facility where the problem occurred," DeMann said. The damaged building had steel-reinforced interior and exterior walls separated by a 10-foot-wide earthen berm.

Planning Commission members expressed concerns over the potential for another blast at a new building. They also wondered if Hercules might decide later to rebuild the damaged structure - amounting to an expansion of its fuel-mixing facilities.

"This is not an expansion. It's a relocation of a facility previously approved," DeMann said.

"The facility was designed to localize impact and direct the force away from inhabited areas. It did what it was supposed to do. Despite the size (of the explosion) there were no injuries, and no one was killed."

But Magna residents were unconvinced.

"There are too many unanswered questions. We don't want to see this rushed," said Marlene Norcross, a member of the Magna Area Council. Council members asked for more time to study potential dangers to area residents.

However, DeMann warned of potential damage to the local and state economies if a new mixing facility is not approved quickly.

"We have contracts in hand to build motors for Delta, Trident and Titan rockets," he said. "Those contracts are ours to lose."

Hercules has voluntarily suspended all fuel mixing since the explosion and needs to begin the new building as soon as possible to resume production schedules to meet those contracts, DeMann said.