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February 19, 2014

Merced looking to sell land to almond processor

Merced is set to sell an old Pepsi bottling plant in Merced to Sun Valley Nut, a Turlock-based company that handles the purchasing, processing and sales of tens of millions of pounds of almonds each year. The sale was set to be approved by City Council this week, but the company asked the city to hold off while it confirms that the city can provide water despite the drought.

Merced could be a couple of weeks from officially selling an empty bottling plant and ushering in as many as 75 jobs.

The Merced City Council was set to vote during Tuesday’s meeting to approve the $1.1 million contract to sell a former Pepsi bottling plant to almond processor Sun Valley Nut.

The Turlock-based company asked the city to continue the discussion during the March 3 council meeting, according to City Manager John Bramble.

“We are a little disappointed we’re needing to do that, but their attorney is reviewing what our water management program will be,” he said. “(It) should not be a problem.”

Sun Valley Nut President Steve Warda did not return calls requesting comment.

Bramble said the city received other offers for the three buildings, covering 134,304 square feet, before picking Sun Valley Nut. The West Avenue plant and two landscape strips included in the sale sit on 15.05 acres.

Bramble said a broker estimated the site to be worth $2.8 million based on its size and location, but the facility has a number of drawbacks that make it worth less. About 7,200 acres of office space on the site is unusable under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Bramble said other factors bringing the price down were that the operation would have to be split among three buildings instead of under one roof, and that the copper wiring in the complex has been stolen.

Michael Wegley, Merced director of water resources, said drought should not be a problem for businesses in Merced. Companies, as well as residents, use groundwater pumped from wells, he said, so the water supply is adequate. A Safeway water bottling plant, for example, operates on the city’s system.

Sun Valley Nut plans to add $7 million worth of equipment to the facility, according to city records. Additions such as that would raise the value of the building when assessing property taxes.

Sun Valley Nut was established in 1989 in Stanislaus County. The company purchases, processes and sells tens of millions of pounds of almonds each year, according to city records. Much of the almond crop comes from the San Joaquin Valley.

The company is headquartered in Turlock and has another plant in Kern County. Sun Valley Nut’s sister company is Sunland Farming, a farming and agricultural operation. The Merced project would consolidate those two operations and expand the company’s capacity, city records indicate.

Pepsi Bottling Group, which left in the building in 2010, had 42 employees. Sun Valley Nut is expected to employ 75.

Robert Morris, director of the county’s Workforce Investment department, said he has not met with the company and does not have details on what kinds of workers it will need for its Merced workforce, or how many. The department offers services for employers and job seekers.

“This will be an opportunity for our folks here,” he said. “I believe those are good wages for those jobs.”

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