Open Letter to the Scott County Board of Supervisors:
Recently you decided to delay the public hearing on the request by Orascom Construction Industries (OCI) to build a fertilizer-manufacturing facility in close proximity to Walcott from August 2 to August 28. The reason given for the change of date was to give OCI more time to produce a full presentation and to arrange for more company officials to attend the hearing. This is very accommodating of you.
How much time will OCI be given for this presentation - half an hour, a whole hour? Conversely, how much time will individual citizens be allowed to speak - two, possibly five minutes? Will the citizens of Scott County be given an extra four weeks, as OCI has, to make a studied rebuttal to its presentation? This would only be fair.
One would think OCI should have had whatever information it is going to present on the 28th available months ago for the public to digest and research. Rather, the public only became aware of this proposed project just a few weeks before the planning-and-zoning commission's hearing on July 17. Why was information about this project withheld from the public until the last minute, and why is it seemingly on the fast track for approval? Information forthcoming from OCI thus far has been scant, with little detail that at times is conflicting. One thing we do know is that OCI likes the Walcott site because "it has minimal environmental restrictions."
There are many reasons why you, as elected officials of the citizens of Scott County, should vote against this project. You should already be keenly aware of the concerns voiced about the loss of prime agricultural land, rezoning that would be a direct contradiction of your own comprehensive plan, serious safety concerns that should not be taken lightly, environmental concerns (water, air, noise, light, odor), concerns about significantly lowered property values, and I could go on.
Another aspect that you should closely scrutinize, and that all taxpayers should be aware of, is how the financing for this project is being proposed. The estimated cost is $1.3 billion. OCI itself describes the venture as risky and is asking that loans and incentives be made available to it. This includes $1.6 million in forgivable and low-interest loans from the state, about $1.2 billion in federal loans through the 2008 flood-relief money (the Midwest Area Disaster Relief program with total bonding ability of about $2.6 billion, of which OCI is asking for almost half), and $2 million from local government incentives for various infrastructure needs. Undoubtedly, local tax-increment financing will be asked to be part of the package. We, the taxpayers, are being asked to finance about 95 percent of this facility. We, the taxpayers, are being asked to practically build this facility for OCI and shoulder all the risk. OCI is one of the core Orascom Group companies based in Cairo, Egypt. It has deep pockets. The fertilizer plant will be called Iowa Fertilizer Company LLC, with incorporation in Delaware. Should the facility encounter financial difficulties, we will likely be left holding the bag. This amounts to corporate welfare on a grand scale, and for a foreign entity that should be funding the project through private means.
A final note: In 20 to 30 years, when this facility has reached the end of its useful life, we will likely be left with the equivalent of a 300-acre toxic-waste dump. The prime agricultural land it once was will be gone forever.
All these points can be gone into in much further detail. The bottom line is: These concerns far outweigh the estimated economic gains, which I believe to be exaggerated. I implore you to protect this prime agricultural preservation land and the citizenry of Scott County as stated in your comprehensive plan and vote "no" to the rezoning of this precious asset.