MOROCCO — A major land development project for Newton County was discussed at the Aug. 14 Newton County Regional Water and Sewer District (NCRWSD) meeting.
Ryan Weaver, Director of Campus Development at Fair Oaks Farms, and DVG Engineering updated NCRWSD on the latest developments and plans which include the changing of zoning for 520 acres of their land to commercial/industrial and dividing that land into 12 lots.
DVG Engineering, who has been designing the water, sewer, gas, electrical and stormwater infrastructure for the project over the last year reported that the 12 sites have already garnered a lot of interest from prospective food processing businesses.
The planned project, being done by Fair Oaks Development, will be divided into three phases with Phase 1 being focused on the first three lots.
Lot 1 is already spoken for as it is the planned location for the cheese manufacturing plant that has been talked about since 2016 as part of the multi-million dollar infrastructure project (new water plant, new sewer plant, and a new water tower for the Fair Oaks Campus) that along with the new hotel was promised to create at least 130 jobs.
Nothing has been finalized for the other two lots, though sources say it’s close to being a done deal. If that is the case, Weaver and DVG Engineering said they could break ground as soon as this year.
“We are hopeful that all 12 lots pan out over time,” said Weaver.
Phase 2 and 3 will depend on how quickly Phase 1 is developed and could even include some residential development, according to DVG Engineering.
Shawn Cain, grant administrator for The Kankakee-Iroquois Regional Planning Commission (KIRPC), informed NCRWSD and Fair Oaks Development that timing is of the essence.
Cain added that the project needs to meet the employment criteria of 80 jobs to keep a $2 million grant that was part of the 2016 multi-million dollar infrastructure project. Cain added that 41 one of those jobs have to be filled with employees coming from moderate to low incomes.
“We were counting on the cheese plant to meet a lot of those numbers but with its delay, we need to grab additional numbers,” said Cain.
The grant timeline calls for those employee numbers to be met 18 months after the grant is closed. Cain told the Newton County Enterprise that she anticipates the grant to close within the next six months.
Mike McCall, chief strategy officer of Fair Oaks Farms, answered: “We have some good prospects for Phase 1 and we are working to fulfill that criteria.”
In related news, Chris Janak, attorney for NCRWSD, said that nothing has changed in terms of the status of the cheese manufacturing plant, which a major part of the major infrastructure deal between Newton County and Select Milk Producers.
Select Milk is a cooperative of 99 dairy farm members, which includes brand names like Core Power, Fairlife Milk, and Fair Oaks Farms.
Janak went on to inform NCRWSD that a joint meeting with them, Select Milk, the Newton Commissioners and the Newton County Council has tentatively been set for Sept. 18 at 5 p.m. at the Government Center in Morocco.
“Select can come in and tell you all what is going on,” added Janak.
Janak speculated that the meeting could address extending the completion date of the cheese plant an additional 18 months to 2022 and agreeing to additional milestones may need to be put in. If those milestones aren’t reached then they would be in breach of the contract, Janak added.