Cairo moving forward on economic development

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

CAIRO, Ill. -- The economic development agenda for the Cairo City Council moved ahead Tuesday when members voted to set a date for a public hearing on a tax increment financing district and chose a consultant to study a transportation facility to move freight between trucks, trains and barges.

Tax increment financing, or TIF, is an economic development tool in which a portion of the new taxes generated by a project are dedicated to support the infrastructure and other costs involved. The district in Cairo is designed to aid the construction of a $90 million biodiesel plant being created as a joint venture of Bunge Corp. and the Renewable Energy Group.

"The TIF is critical for it to go forward," said Mike Eickhoff, a representative for Renewable Energy Group.

The public hearing was set for Aug. 13, and plans are under development for smaller, informal meetings with residents to answer questions during the weeks leading up to the meeting.

In addition, the council will be establishing Joint Review Board, representing the various entities that will contribute tax revenue, to hash out the issues of which taxes and how much money will be dedicated to the project.

The council chose InterVISTAS Development Economics of Washington, D.C., to conduct the study of for what is known as a transloading facility. After discussing their impression of the four proposals to use $100,000 in grants dedicated to the study, members turned to Doug Grindberg of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development program and Donna Raynalds, executive director of the Southernmost Illinois Delta Empowerment Zone, or SIDEZ, which each is providing half the grant funding.

InterVISTAS had the edge, Grindberg told the council, because it has a working relationship with the Canadian National Railway, the major freight line serving Cairo.

"If the railroad is not on board, nothing will come of this," Grindberg said. "If they are not on board, you can't do it."

Cairo at one point wanted a local engineering firm to do the study, but that idea was rejected by both the USDA and SIDEZ because the study needs to have a firm with a strong reputation behind it, Raynalds said. "You must get someone with a national reputation and expertise because there is only one shot at this," she said.

The biodiesel plant, with construction expected to begin this fall if things fall into place, would be the first big industrial development in Cairo in decades. And the transloading facility, if it comes to fruition, would take advantage of the river traffic, rail lines and interstate highways that pass Cairo.

Along with the biodiesel plant, another developer, Clean Coal Power Resources, is looking at the agricultural land around the Cairo Regional Airport to develop a coal gasification plant to produce diesel.

The transloading facility could become a major support for that development. But without the railroad's interest, Grindberg said, the transloading facility is a dead issue.

"The railroad has to have a reason to stop here," he said. "You have to get them on early and first."

335-6611, extension 126

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