TUSCOLA — It could be just a matter of time before a large fertilizer operation decides to settle just outside Tuscola.
Cronus Chemicals, a corporation looking to build a $1.2 billion fertilizer plant, is acquiring property easements on a line from Champaign to a site just west of Tuscola. It would need those easements to build a pipe that would feed millions of gallons per day of treated wastewater from the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District's southwest plant to its facility in Douglas County.
Officials have been talking about the plant for well in excess of a year. Illinois legislators laid $14 million in tax breaks on the table as bait as Cronus had been considering land in Iowa as a potential site, too. That would supplement an estimated $16 million the plant might be eligible for through existing state economic development programs.
It's appearing more and more like that may have been enough, as area officials continue waiting for an announcement of where the plant will be built.
"Probably in the next few weeks we're going to be having some news," said Brian Moody, executive director of the Tuscola Chamber and Economic Development.
Moody said company officials for Cronus are finishing acquiring those property rights that would allow them to build the water pipe from Champaign to Tuscola. The plant would need the water to cool its equipment.
Those easements are "just about it, from our understanding," Moody said. Then the company should be ready to make an announcement.
They're "kind of closing in on it, one agreement at a time," he said.
It would be a big get for the small town — the plant is expected to create as many as 1,500 jobs at the peak of construction and about 150 permanent jobs when it's up and running. Cronus Chemicals says on its website that construction is expected to take almost three years, and the plant is expected to open sometime in 2017.
Moody, who has been heavily involved in courting the fertilizer plant, is keeping his hopes in check for the time being.
"I think my expectations are pretty high, but I've seen an announcement happen and the project doesn't actually happen," he said.
Tuscola was selected as one of four finalists for the so-called FutureGen power plant project in 2006. Tuscola was passed over, and a site in Coles County was eventually announced as the location — but the project went through further restructuring due to rising costs and ended up in Meredosia in west-central Illinois. The $1.6 billion plant has yet to be built.