'Significant milestone': Cronus contractor deal being finalized

'Significant milestone': Cronus contractor deal being finalized

TUSCOLA — Construction work at the site of the much-awaited Cronus Fertilizers plant in rural Tuscola has been firmed up to start this year, with a contractor deal being finalized this week.

Tecnimont and KBR Inc., both global contracting and construction firms that will be acting as general contractors on the $1.5 billion project, signed a joint venture agreement for the engineering, procurement and construction of the plant, Tecnimont's parent company, Maire Tecnimont, announced.

"Effectively, it means the project is on track, and we're looking to break ground in 2016 and get this moving forward," Cronus spokesman Dave Lundy said.

Lundy said he couldn't pin down an exact starting date for construction on the Cronus plant, which will occupy 240 acres of farmland 2 miles west of Tuscola along U.S. 36.

But local officials anticipate seeing some activity this summer, starting with a considerable amount of infrastructure work that needs to precede the actual plant construction. Work on the plant itself is likely to begin in the spring of 2017, according to Drew Hoel, Tuscola's city administrator, and Brian Moody, the executive director of Tuscola Chamber and Economic Development.

Some of that infrastructure work includes road upgrades around the plant site, with U.S. 36 to get some new turn lanes, shoulder widening and intersection improvements, Moody said.

Two Douglas County roads — County Road 700E and County Road 1050N — must be widened and significantly upgraded, at a cost that will be substantially picked up by the state Department of Transportation, according to Hoel.

"They're country roads that have to be Class 3 truck routes," he said.

That means that the oil and chip roads will become 80,000-pound roads with a hard surface and curbing in some places, Moody said.

Some of what else will be going on in the buzz of activity to accommodate the future fertilizer plant: Lots of drainage improvements, including some new drainage outlets under railroad crossings, improvements to existing drainage structures and widening of some ditches, Moody said.

Hoel said the Cronus project has never been "off track," but he regarded the contractor signing as a "significant milestone."

"It's a clear sign that the project is still moving in the right direction," he said.

"We've had discussions regarding the time line," Hoel said. "That time line has been amended in the past a few times. The project hasn't moved as quickly as some of the original press releases said it might."

At this point, he said, "we're excited, and just a little bit apprehensive. It's going to be a big impact."

Moody said local officials have heard people wondering if this project is going to become a reality, and he assures much is being done behind the scenes.

"It's hard to appreciate, sometimes, the complexity and size of this project and all the variables and pieces that have to come together, but I feel real positive about where we're at," he said.

The plant is planned to produce an annual 800,000 tons of anhydrous ammonia, to be converted to 1.4 million tons of granular urea, a nitrogen fertilizer.

Fast facts

More to know about the Cronus fertilizer plant construction job:

More than a dozen union labor agreements are in place, with 2,000 construction jobs expected.

The actual plant facility will occupy about 100 acres of the 240-acre site.

From start to finish, this remains a 37-month construction project. A start this summer means this plant could be completed in mid-2019.

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