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After collapse, grower mulls integrity of fabric grain bins


Capital Press

POCATELLO, Idaho -- Grower Mike McNabb thought his family business had found an ideal, cost-effective solution for short-term grain storage in its 22,500-square-foot fabric structure.

Sunday afternoon, however, wind gusts that reached 66 mph brought down the tent-like facility, located along Interstate 86 near the Pocatello Regional Airport. The McNabbs run a grain elevator business, storing wheat from their own farm and several other customers' farms.

As his family mulls replacement options, McNabb now wonders if storage facilities made of vinyl fabric over a steel frame -- billed by manufacturers as ideal for agriculture and as strong as steel-walled bins -- are worth the risk on windy farms.

Shortly after its installation more than four years ago, the structure also sustained extensive damage, but was salvageable, when strong winds blew it off its foundation. McNabb thought the family had solved the problem by replacing the original foundation.

"We're not sure what we're going to do about putting it back up. ... We can't have it blowing down, so we've got to figure out what we can do," McNabb said.

McNabb said the structure, which cost about $270,000 to build, is covered by insurance, but he noted, "It seems you always end up with out-of-pocket costs."

The facility had open ends, which McNabb said was handy at harvest time but could have played a role in its failure. Because they didn't have to worry about the weight of grain against end walls, they could store up to 500,000 bushels. Any grain that spilled outside was hauled away first. A replacement structure with ends would stop strong winds from blowing through but would limit storage capacity and be more costly to build, he said.

The Canadian company that made the facility, Cover-All Building Systems, went bankrupt following the high-profile, 2009 failure of a fabric structure its subsidiary built to serve as a Dallas Cowboys football practice facility. Lawsuits were filed by people injured during the collapse, and The Associated Press reported internal documents showed the manufacturer knew about the practice field's shortcomings prior to the accident.

Cover-All was bought out by Norseman Structures of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 2010.

Robin Taylor, director of marketing for Norseman, said her company "redesigned the (Cover-All) structures from the ground up and made sure they met code." Taylor said the redesigns weren't in response to any problems with the integrity of Cover-All products but were rather "more about the direction Norseman wanted to go versus finding fault."

She said Norseman fabric structures meet the same building specifications as pre-engineered steel facilities, and she sees no reason why the McNabbs shouldn't erect another fabric structure.

"It's a very good fit for the agricultural market. It's becoming very mainstream to get this type of structure," Taylor said.


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