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FS announces $5-million project

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

South Central FS unveiled to city and county officials this week its plans for a $5-million facility at Vandalia’s northwest edge.

Byron Sikma, a Vandalia man who was just promoted to chief executive officer of the nine-county cooperative, told the Vandalia City Council on Monday and the Fayette County Board on Tuesday that South Central FS is in the initial stages of the project to relocate its local agronomy services.
Both the city and the county will vote Monday on giving their approval for the project after a public hearing at 6:30 p.m., the city during its regular meeting at 7:30 p.m., and the county board during a special meeting at 7:30 at the county courthouse.
Sikma said that FS has an agreement to purchase from George and Shirley Little 20 acres of land just behind Pine Ridge Homes and Laack Flooring in the city’s northeast quadrant of the city’s western Interstate 70 interchange.
Sikma said the co-op has 120 days to fulfill the agreement on the purchase of that land, which was annexed into the city in 2007.
On that land, FS plans to build a “state-of-the-art and environmentally friendly” storage and loading facility, he said.
Its new structures will include a 14,000-ton dry fertilizer building that replace its facility off of West Jefferston Street, and it will allow the co-op to move its anhydrous ammonia storage from its property on Ill. Route 185 (Hillsboro Road).
Also planned at the site are a bulk seed facility, storage warehouse, crop protection building, maintenance shop and office space, Sikma said.
The new facility will increase the number of full-time FS agronomy services employees from 11 to 20, and the number of seasonal employees from six or eight to 14, Sikma said.
“This is going to be a 30-year investment for us,” Sikma said, telling the county board on Tuesday that such a facility has been discussed for several years.
Sikma told the city council about a couple of advantages that the new facility has over FS’s current locations.
The location of the new facility “gives us quick access to I-70” and quicker access to U.S. Route 51, he said.
The new dry fertilizer building will greatly speed up the time it takes to load trucks, he said. While it currently takes about 50 minutes to load a truck at the Jefferson Street facility, it will take about five minutes at the new facility.
“We’re focused on sound safety and environmental principles,” Sikma said, mentioning that the co-op looked at several properties before deciding on the Little property.
“We’re going to do this project, if not here, four or five miles west … and leave the anhydrous where it is,” he said.
FS is currently working with an Effingham engineering firm on a site plan and water retention plan, and with a Decatur engineering firm on soil boring and fertilizer building foundation design.
It’s hoping to begin dirt work in July and start construction on the dry fertilizer building in August, with Sikma estimating that it will take three to four months to complete that phase.
It then hopes to begin construction on the office, shop, warehouse and crop protection building in September, projected to also take three to four months to complete.
He said that FS hopes to have the dry fertilizer building ready for operation by the first of March 2014.
The cooperative would continue to operate its gas station and tire shop at its property on Hillsboro Road, and Sikma told the county board that moving the agronomy services to the new location would allow for future expansion of the tire shop, should FS decide to expand that service.
“We have a very successful tire shop,” he said.
While several aldermen expressed support for the project, Vandalia’s newest alderman said she wasn’t quite ready to vote.
Dorothy Crawford said, “I’m not comfortable with the city council moving forward without hearing from the people out there.”
“I’m not saying ‘yes,’ I’m not saying ‘no;’ I’m just saying ‘not yet,’” Crawford said,  expressing the opinion that both residential and commercial owners in that area should have a chance to learn about the project and voice opinions.
Discussed at length was the relocation of the anhydrous ammonia storage, and Sikma and FS safety and compliance officer Stanley Joergens explained that the new location would be more remote than the current one, and that the cooperative exceeds government mandates and requirements for the product.
While manual locks are required on anhydrous ammonia containers, FS also has remote control locks on their storage units, they said.
“It doesn’t explode, like some people think it does,” Joergens said, adding that FS offers training to fire departments on how anhydrous ammonia is made and how the cooperative’s equipment works.
FS is mandated to have employees trained every three years, but trains its employees annually, he said, adding that the co-op has also initiated a farmer training program.
Sikma told the council that FS had gotten support for the project from Pine Ridge Homes and Laack Flooring, and he told the county board on Tuesday that FS had also received support from other neighbors.
He told both the city council and county board that FS has “an impeccable (safety) record,” also telling The Leader-Union on Tuesday that “we are continually working to even improve on that.
“We have always been good neighbors and we will continue to be good neighbors,” he said.
County Board Chairman Steve Knebel offered his support for the project, speaking about the company’s safety record and its concern for its neighbors.
“One of the homes nearby (the new facility) is the son of the people selling the land,” Knebel said.
As concerns were voiced at the council meeting, the recent explosion at a fertilizer plant in West Texas was brought up. Sikma clarified that the product at that plant was ammonium nitrate, and he said that FS has not carried that product for more than a decade, because its insurance company will not allow it to do so.