Tuscola counts on new jobs to invigorate community

TUSCOLA – Phyllis Truitt of Tuscola said she was thrilled when she learned her community was one of four Illinois finalists for a $1 billion power plant.

"I think it is going to be wonderful for our community," Truitt said. "The plant could bring more people to town, and more people means building more houses."

Lynnita Brown, the owner of Aldridge's Collectibles Shop, said getting a power plant could revitalize downtown Tuscola.

"The downtown has a lot of vacant buildings because there has been a concentration of building along the U.S. 36 area on the south side of town," Brown said. "If a big plant like this comes to the community, there will be more people moving here to shop in downtown Tuscola."

Tuscola area residents were generally positive about news that the state has selected Tuscola as a possible site for FutureGen, a prototype coal plant proposed by the U.S. Department of Energy and an international consortium called the FutureGen Industrial Alliance. The other finalists in Illinois are Mattoon, Effingham and Marshall.

"I think it will be a very good thing for Tuscola," said Alderman Tim Seip. "My first impression is that this sounds good, but I want to know more about it. You are going to see our community go to bat for this."

"I think our county is dying economically," said Douglas County Board member Judy Maggio of Tuscola. "Getting FutureGen would be a shot in the arm for the county and would give us the high-tech jobs we need. Hopefully we'll get a new subdivision or two out of it."

But Tuscola Alderwoman Judy Landeck said she has come concerns about FutureGen.

"I'm not sure if I support it at this point," Landeck said. "I am a farm girl at heart, and the use of that land is important to me. I hope it will be used in an environmentally safe way.

"I think back to a time when coal mining destroyed the land, and I hope that the care of the land will be uppermost in people's minds as decisions are being made."

FutureGen would convert coal into a gas that would be converted into electricity and would produce hydrogen for the use of refineries and clean-burning hydrogen fuel cells.

Tuscola Alderman Steve Fox said the project is important to the nation's energy needs.

"I consider our country to be under an energy crisis," Fox said. "This would utilize the Illinois coal industry and could revitalize our state. This will be a wonderful thing for our community, state and nation."

The plant is expected to create about 1,300 construction jobs and approximately 150 permanent jobs, according to Brian Moody, executive director of Tuscola Economic Development Inc., a private organization dedicated to attracting, retaining and promoting businesses.

Tuscola Alderman Boyd Henderson said he and Moody drove around the area with a plat book several weeks ago, scouting possible sites for FutureGen before settling on a site between the city limits and the industrial complex west of Tuscola.

"We looked for possible locations that met the list of requirements needed for the project," Henderson said. "We looked at four possible sites around Tuscola, and this was the top one. We're pleased that Tuscola chose us to go this far."

Moody said he was looking for property close to electric transmission lines and gas pipelines that landowners would be willing to sell and that had no issues over mineral rights.

"It was also important that we had a site with lots of water availability," Moody said. "We are fortunate because Equistar has a lot of water capacity. Because of the size of its current facility, Equistar no longer uses that capacity."

Moody said the resources of the proposed FutureGen site could lower the fixed costs for the developers, making Tuscola an attractive site.

Tuscola City Administrator Drew Hoel credited Moody's research and persistence in helping the Tuscola proposal get this far.

"Brian has done a great job," Hoel said. "If we are fortunate enough to be selected by the state and ultimately have the project, I believe the spinoff benefits would be tremendous."

Douglas County Board Chairman Wayne Schable, R-Atwood, said the county board would consider a resolution showing support for the project.

"We need to give this project our blessing," Schable said. "There's still a lot of work that needs to be done to prove to the state we have the qualifications for it."

Schable said he isn't concerned about the plant taking farmland.

"It will take a sizeable amount of land, but I think there's enough land to produce all the crops we need and then some," Schable said.

Moody said he believes FutureGen would lead to new subdivisions in the area.

"We think it will have a large impact on residential growth," Moody said. "Any time you have something that brings 150 and more jobs, those employees bring families with them."

If Tuscola is selected, Moody said he wouldn't be surprised if secondary businesses that serve FutureGen also come to town.

"One of the things we want to look at are other types of businesses that would come here," Moody said. "We anticipate this would be a large research facility that will bring people from all over the world to do their research."

If Tuscola is selected, Moody anticipates it would take six to eight years to complete construction.

A public meeting providing information on the project will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Tuscola Community Building, 122 W. North Central St.

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