Illinois issues draft of fertilizer plant permit

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — A draft version of a key permit needed for Cronus Chemicals LLC to build and operate a $1.2 billion fertilizer plant that Illinois and Iowa are competing to host has been issued, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency confirmed Friday.

State officials called it a key step toward seeing the plant and its 200 jobs come to Illinois.

The draft air permit was issued for a site just west of Tuscola in eastern Illinois, EPA spokeswoman Kim Biggs said. The final permitting decision will follow a public-comment period that ends July 25.

"We made a preliminary decision that the application meets (EPA) requirements," she said.

Dave Lundy, a spokesman for Cronus Chemical, said the permit is an important step for the company as it prepares to decide between Tuscola and a site in Mitchell County, Iowa. He expects that decision to come within the next couple months, meaning the company doesn't feel it needs to wait for the final decision on the air permit.

"It's a very big deal, and it was critical for our ability to make decision on where we're moving forward," he said.

Illinois and Iowa have been competing for the plant, which Cronus Chemical says would create about 2,000 jobs during construction and employ about 200 people full-time once it's operating. The Iowa site is in Mitchell County in far-northern Iowa. Cronus is owned by a group of Swiss and Turkish investors.

Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity spokesman David Roeder says the permit is a "big step" in luring the plant. The agency is still talking with Cronus Chemical about potential tax breaks if it does build in Illinois, but Roeder said the company would qualify for sales tax exemptions on materials purchases and some other breaks under enterprise-zone legislation passed last year.

Tina Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Commerce, declined comment Friday.

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