Cumberland Times-News

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October 10, 2013

Fibred, Mexico Farms, LLC, likely to be sold

CUMBERLAND — A company with a long history in Allegany County along with a related company will likely soon have new owners, it was revealed during Thursday’s Allegany County Commission business meeting.

Fibred and Mexico Farms, LLC, will likely be sold to new owners, said Margaret L. Ort, of Mexico Farms, LLC, in an undated letter to County Attorney William Rudd. The county needed to be involved because the county held an option to purchase water treatment lagoons from Mexico Farms, LLC. Commissioners voted to release the option, removing a potential complication from the planned change of hands.

Fibred was founded by the late Lewis J. Ort, who transformed a family bakery into a nationwide operation. Ort knew dietary fiber could improve health and began the Fibred Co. as a way to provide food-grade fiber.

“We clearly don’t have an interest (in the purchase option),” Rudd said. He described the potential purchaser as “a major company” that will invest in both companies and possibly add jobs. A bankruptcy court has already approved the purchases of some assets of Mexico Farms, LLC, according to Ort.

“The purchaser is a large organization who plans to invest millions of dollars into the manufacturing plant and wastewater treatment facilities and to create additional jobs here in Allegany County,” Ort said.

The two companies employ about 35 people, with a payroll of more than $1.7 million. The company also covers employees’ health insurance deductibles and pays about 70 percent of health insurance costs. The Fibred company has sales in the United States of more than $7 million annually, Casper Taylor Jr., a representative of the company, has said.

The wastewater treatment facilties have been a pollution issue recently resolved by a consent agreement between the state and Mexico Farms, LLC. Mexico Farms processes wastewater for Fibred, a soybean processing and manufacturing operation. Fibred was not targeted in the Maryland Department of the Environment actions against Mexico Farms, resolved over the summer.

“The estimated cost of compliance is several million dollars,” Ort said.

The dispute centered around allegations that Mexico Farms was dumping wastewater without a permit and continuing a series of environmental violations. The state had filed in Allegany County Circuit Court on July 19 for an injunction and fines in the amount of $500,000.

A new treatment plant is to be operational by March 30, 2015, according to the agreement. The lagoons will cease operations and be cleaned out during 2014-15, according to the language of the decree. Mexico Farms agreed to provide monthly progress reports to MDE.

Commissioners also approved issuing up to $3.6 million in bonds to fund several water and sewer projects. No members of the public spoke during a hearing before the vote. The bonds will pay for loans associated with the projects. Several of the loans come with forgiveness provisions which may help cut the actual costs of the projects once they are completed.

Among the projects that could be funded by the bonds are those at Rawlings, Bedford Road, Braddock Run and Jennings Run, said County Finance Director Jason Bennett.

The first phase of the Rawlings project is already under construction and is scheduled for completion in the fall. The second phase of the project will provide water service to about 350 customers in the Rawlings area.

Rawlings needs complete replacement of its water and sewer system.

The regular business meeting took place at 5 p.m. at county offices on Kelly Road.

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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