Sanitary District OKs water sale despite opposition
URBANA — Local officials on Thursday checked off another major step toward securing a deal to build a $1.4 billion fertilizer plant near Tuscola.
Cronus Chemicals still hasn't said where it will build the plant, but an announcement could come soon. The company has launched a website at cronuschem.com, where it lists some details of the project and the "major members" of the company.
Local and state officials are trying to lure the plant to Tuscola over another site company officials are considering in Iowa. Gov. Pat Quinn has already signed a $30 million incentive package to lure Cronus to Illinois.
Still no word on a location, but Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District Executive Director Rick Manner said three of the four principals of Cronus were at the district Thursday.
"It sounds a lot more real from everything I'm seeing," Manner said. "They're spending a lot of time working on the pipeline (to pump water to Tuscola) and working with us. It seems very serious."
On Thursday, the sanitary district board signed off on a deal for which Cronus would pay at least $2 million per year for a direct flow of around 5.5 million gallons per day of the sanitary district's treated wastewater. The plant needs the water to cool equipment used in its manufacturing process.
The three-member sanitary district board has spent a lot of time on the contract during the past year, and unanimously signed off on it in front of a crowded meeting room Thursday.
A number of environmentalists have opposed certain aspects of the contract throughout that time. They said again this week that the agreement favors Cronus Chemicals and is lacking in protections for the district, ratepayers and local streams.
The treated wastewater is typically discharged to local streams, and opponents worry that a reduction in water levels could hurt those ecosystems and recreational opportunities.
Prairie Rivers Network staff attorney Kim Knowles said she thinks Cronus is "pulling a fast one on us."
Manner said the district has tried to address some of those concerns and that the contract with Cronus ensures that an adequate amount of water will continue to be discharged to those streams.
Other attendees of Thursday's meeting included union workers, some of whom said they did not want to see any further delay in approving the contract.
While sanitary officials have been working on the contract, some have wondered who is behind Cronus Chemicals, which incorporated as a limited liability company in Delaware in November 2012.
According to the company's website, the four key players behind the company include:
— Erzin Atac, a Swiss citizen with more than 30 years' experience in sourcing and marketing fertilizers in international markets and in the United States.
— Seref Surmen, a Turkish citizen with more than a decade of "managerial and operational experience in a variety of industrial operations, including port management, hydroelectric power generation and chemical fertilizers."
— Fred Gill, a University of Nebraska graduate with more than 40 years' experience in the fertilizer industry.
— John Kinnamon, who has 34 years' experience in project development and finance. He holds a master's degree from the University of Illinois Springfield.
According to its website, the proposed fertilizer plant will produce 800,000 tons per year of anhydrous ammonia, with the majority being converted to 1.4 million tons per year of granular urea. It would take 32 to 34 months to build and will employ between 1,500 and 2,000 people at the height of construction.
The plant will provide up to 200 permanent jobs when it is up and running, which is expected in early 2017.