Board to spend $927,000 for a road to almost nowhere

Paul Brennan
|
Jun 30, 2014 12:32 PM
Board to spend $927,000 for a road to almost nowhere

By Paul Brennan | Iowa Watchdog

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Woodbury County Board of Supervisors voted to borrow $927,000 for a road project which, the county engineer says, will be little used after 2016.

CF Industries, which is expanding its Port Neal fertilizer plant, asked the county to extend 240th Street to provide another route for trucks bringing construction equipment and material to the plant.

“Looking at it from a transportation status, it’s a difficult project for me to get behind,” county engineer Mark Nahra told the board.

Nahra said there was no reason to believe the extension will see much use after the plant expansion is completed in mid-2016.

“For less money we can invest in and improve the existing roads,” Nahra said.

Nahra estimated that improving the existing roads to accommodate the increased traffic during the plant’s expansion would cost “significantly less $100,000.”

But George Boykin, chairman of the board, said after meeting with CF Industries representatives about the project he’s convinced it’s a good idea.

“I see more pros than cons,” Boykin told his fellow supervisors.

BIG BUCKS FOR A ROAD WITH LITTLE FUTURE: The Woodbury County Board of Supervisors voted to borrow $927,000 for a road extension the county engineers says will see little use after 2016.

Boykin pointed out the extension would decrease the number of trucks driving through residential areas while hauling supplies to the construction site.

The extension may be used if further residential or business development happens near the plant, he said.

No new development is planned in the area.

Developers might be reluctant to build in the area since a massive explosion at the plant in 1994 that killed four workers, destroyed a seven-story building and knocked out power in parts of Iowa and Nebraska.

The extension of 240th Street will be the second new route into the plant.

As part of the economic incentives CF Industries got for its expansion project, the Iowa Department of Transportation has already provided $3.8 million in funding for a new road to the plant.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority has awarded CF Industries a $1.5 million forgivable loan for the project, as well as $57 million in tax credits and $13 million in sales and use tax rebates.

On the local level, Woodbury County has granted the plant $161 million in property tax abatements over 20 years.

In return, CF Industries has guaranteed state and local officials the $1.7 billion plant expansion will create 100 new permanent jobs.

David Tripp, the only supervisor to vote against the road extension, concedes the economic importance of the plant.

“I know CF is the golden goose in that part of the county, but I just don’t think we should be spending this much money on a road that’s only really going to be used for 15 months,” Tripp told Iowa Watchdog. “Not when so many other roads in the county are in need of repair.”

Tripp is concerned the extension creates a new permanent obligation for the county.

“Building the extension means we’re responsible for it. We’ll have to maintain it, no matter how little use it’s getting. The weather here is very rough on roads, and if someone using this extension has a problem, it’s going to our problem. The taxpayers will be on the hook,” Tripp explained.

It’s estimated the road extension will be completed in November.

Contact Paul Brennan at pbrennan@watchdog.org