Cairo Association of Teachers - Newsletter

CAT Tracks for August 8, 2007

From the Southeast Missourian...

Petition to show support for Cairo plant

By Rudi Keller ~ Southeast Missourian

CAIRO, Ill. -- Southern Illinois leaders hoping to build state and federal support for a proposed $3 billion coal-to-diesel plant will turn to a time-honored grassroots technique -- a petition drive.

Commissioners from Alexander and Pulaski counties met with Cairo Mayor Judson Childs and Stacy Thomas, Alexander County representative for the Southernmost Illinois Delta Empowerment Zone, to finalize the petition forms that will be distributed to city and town halls as well as retail and restaurant locations.

The aim of the drive, said Mike Caldwell, chairman of the Alexander County Board, is to show the strength of local support to overcome bureaucratic obstacles to the plant.

Clean Coal Power Resources Inc. of Louisville, Ky., wants to build the $3 billion plant, capable of producing 50,000 barrels of low-sulfur diesel fuel daily, just north of Cairo. One of the key hurdles for the plant's backers, however, is winning federal approval to move the Cairo Regional Airport, which sits in the middle of the 2,000- to 3,000-acre site designated for the facility.

"It has gotten to the time where we have to go out and touch the people," Caldwell said. "We are getting close on this thing."

The airport's board of directors has agreed to sell the property to the developers. At first, Clean Coal Power had hoped to persuade the Federal Aviation Administration to accept a $3.5 million repayment of federal grants to the airport as settlement of the agency's claims.

But it appears the FAA will want a replacement airport, Thomas said. The petition drive is a tool to show the agency that there is broad support for the plant and for finding a suitable location for the airport.

"I am convinced this project is ready to move forward and take the next step if they get over this hurdle," Thomas said.

During a presentation earlier this year in Ullin, Ill., Bill Capie, a local representative for Clean Coal Power, explained that keeping the airport open within the boundaries of the massive refinery is out of the question. The mere possibility of an airplane hitting the highly volatile fuel distillery would be far too risky, he said.

Another point of the petition drive is to gain the attention of federal and state officials and lawmakers, Caldwell said. He has high hopes for the drive, which he wants to complete within 10 days to two weeks.

"I want all the people involved," he said. "I want the people in the county to feel a part of this. When we land this I want everybody to feel they have a part in this. We want the jobs."

When news of the proposed plant first surfaced, many people were skeptical that such a large undertaking would be successfully launched in Alexander County, one of the poorest counties in the state. Cairo, the county seat, has been declining in population and economic activity for more than 70 years.

The decline accelerated in the 1970s following racial tension, but area leaders believe the massive plant -- with its promise of up to 1,000 permanent jobs -- is the catalyst for a renaissance.

"It is a great opportunity to bring the whole region together because a project of this size is going to benefit the whole area," Caldwell said. "It makes a good statement to have everyone working together. It is important for us, and it is important for the future of our youth who are coming up, too."