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Cronus delay continues for Tuscola

Ryan Head/For CU-CitizenAccess

It’s been more than seven years since local and state officials broke ground for a $1.4 billion fertilizer plant near Tuscola, Ill. along U.S. Highway 36. 

As of today, construction has yet to take place.

During those seven years, Cronus, whose executives infrequently give interviews, have changed the estimated date of construction and the amount the money will cost. 

When the project was originally announced, then Illinois Governor Quinn, issued a press release, stating the cost at $1.4 billion. As of 2017, the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association (IFCA) cited the cost at $1.9 billion. And the most recent estimate is at roughly $1.7 billion. 

However, the exact amount is uncertain. Unlike previous years, Cronus has not made any announcement on the cost and have removed any dollar amount from their website. 

From the Cronus Chemicals LLC official website as of November 3rd, 2021

According to Cronus Chemicals LLC, the company behind the plant, construction alone could provide between 1,500 and 2,000 jobs with 200 full-time jobs once the plant is operating. Tuscola is a town of about 4,400 residents and located 30-minutes south of Champaign along Interstate 57. 

While the company’s website has repeatedly changed information on the project, such as cost and timeline, it has not provided much information on the reasons behind the delays. 

The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story. 

Rick Manner, the executive director for the Urbana and Champaign Sanitary District (UCSD), spoke about the delay on the district’s end.      

“UCSD has a contract with Cronus, and in that contract, it requires Cronus to produce a letter of credit to protect our ratepayers from the cost of acting,” Manner said. “It’s essentially a bank account; money set aside so that if things were to fall apart, we could cash in that letter of credit to reimburse ourselves for the costs that may have occurred. So, once they start working on something and it falls apart, that way our ratepayers are not harmed.” 

Manner said without the aforementioned letter of credit, Cronus would not be allowed to move forward with its plans for building their plant. The contract between Cronus and the sanitary district is a multi-phased one and once that letter is secured, Manner says it would initiate later phases. This is all dependent on the district’s continued interest in the project, as they have the option to allow the contract to expire without the letter of credit, but Manner said he does not see that happening at this time.

A screenshot from the Cronus Chemicals LLC official site from 2020, obtained from web.archive.org

As reported in a story by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, in July 2020, Cronus had changed their projected “groundbreaking” date at least eight times. At that time, the site was claiming that work would begin on the construction in the second half of 2020. 

Today, the Cronus website has adjusted their timeline yet again. It currently claims construction will begin in the second half of 2021.

“The contract language had something in it that allows us to terminate the contract and an option if they don’t secure funding by a certain date,” Manner said.

Currently, the deadline for Cronus to provide a letter of credit is July 1, 2022. However, Manner stated that this date has been moved back “at least four or five times now.” Manner said he and the board are taking a longer view of the situation. 

“This is almost a 20-year contract and we expect it to be long term. The terms are good for UCSD and so, if they get Cronus to go live with a letter of credit, we would be happy to execute the contract in its entirety,” Manner said. He stated that he believes this offer will be continued for as long as there is a viable chance for that to happen.

On October 1, 2018, Cronus announced a turnkey partnership with Thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions. Thyssenkrupp is an engineering company that specializes in industrial plants. The company has locations around the world, including in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. 

In a statement included with the announcement on the Cronus website, Cronus Chemicals CEO Erzin Atac said, “We are proud to reach this important milestone in realizing our vision for a state-of-the-art fertilizer factory that will provide major benefits for the entire region.” 

And Illinois State Senator Chapin Rose is quoted as saying; “I am thrilled with the continuing progress of the Cronus project. Bringing thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions to the table as their EPC contractor is a significant step forward in this process.”

Cronus announced that Thyssenkrupp would be helping with engineering, procurement and construction of the site near Tuscola. However, the latest news release from Cronus is posted on their site as the Thyssenkrupp partnership, over three years prior to this writing. 

The last several years have seen several changes in partners and some changes in the management team for Cronus. The most recent addition seems to be Key Trade founder, Melih Keyman. Key Trade is self-described as the “leading global fertilizer trading company.”  

Ryan Head/For CU-CitizenAccess

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