Mosaic Co. is restarting its idled fertilizer production facilities in St. James Parish and officials hope they will be fully operational by Monday.

Spokeswoman Callie Neslund said all employees furloughed during the two-month idling returned to work last week, but many of them are undergoing standard safety training following the extended break.

The company halted production in St. James Parish on Oct. 1 and furloughed more than 370 employees due to an oversupply of the agriculture fertilizer that Mosaic makes along the Mississippi River, company officials said then. 

Though a handful of employees remained during the furlough for maintenance, the idling affected both Mosaic operations in St. James — the Uncle Sam and Faustina facilities straddling either side of the river.

Neslund said the fall season was not as good as the company hoped, but the idling achieved a balance of customer demand with the company's excess inventory.

"We hope to be fully operational by the 16th, but in the interim, all of the employees have returned to full-time employment," Neslund said.

She said the company began the multiday process of restarting the complex on Thursday and had previously begun receiving shipments in preparation for the restart.

During the plant idling, furloughed employees received at least 70% of their pay, plus all key benefits. 

The slowdown came as the company was responding to a slow shifting of its massive waste gypsum pile at the east bank of the Uncle Sam facility near Convent, though company officials said the plant idling was related to market conditions.

The movement of the waste pile, which is about 185 feet tall and has its own nighttime warning lights for aircraft, had raised worries early this year from state and federal regulators concerned about the integrity of a large lake inside the pile. The lake holds hundreds of millions of gallons of acidic and radioactive process water.

Regulators and the company now say the risk of a catastrophic failure and release of the water is minimal.

The movement of parts of the pile's north wall and the earth deep beneath that wall have slowed significantly after a series of emergency measures. The movement went from more than a half-inch per day to one-tenth to one-hundredth of an inch per day, on average, state reports show.

A halt in production affects the company's ability to manage the supply of the process water on site, company officials have previously said. Rainfall expands that supply while continued fertilizer production causes the water to evaporate.

Company officials said at the time of the furlough that they had spare water storage capacity and other efforts underway to reduce process water levels so they could manage the water during the production halt.

Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.

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