Rentech deal just beginning Allen says

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 4, 2006

Natchez &8212; Just be patient.

That&8217;s what Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority Chairman Woody Allen is advising local leaders who want to know what happens next with a request for funds to help pay for infrastructure for a coal gasification plant.

&8220;This is a start,&8221; Allen said. &8220;We&8217;ve just got to be patient.&8221;

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The request for $15 million to help prepare the Belwood Country Club site for Rentech Inc.&8217;s plant was reduced to $10 million in the Senate &8212; admittedly a disappointment, Allen said.

But Allen said he is hopeful that the other funds will be returned when the bill goes to conference committee.

&8220;This was not an estimate,&8221; Allen said of the $15 million request, which will go toward infrastructure improvements at the Belwood site near the port, including shoring up the levee there.

In fact, Allen and Rentech officials toured the site earlier this week to make sure their plans and figures checked out.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Robertson has told local officials that if further due diligence supports their needs, the Senate will likely fund the project at $15 million.

For now, local officials will wait to hear what happens next. The bill that passed the Senate &8212; for $10 million in bonds &8212; now goes to a conference committee, then to the House.

Sen. Bob M. Dearing, D-Natchez said Thursday he also hopes that if the conference committee fully funds the project, it will pass the House.

&8220;I think it will pass the Senate if they do that,&8221; he said.

The waiting game is just part of the politics, Allen said.

&8220;It&8217;s just part of government,&8221; he said. &8220;We&8217;ve just got to wait and play out the process.&8221;

The bill requires Rentech to invest $800 million in the Natchez plant, excluding money from the state, and create at least 200 jobs with an average $45,000 salary.

Rentech officials have said construction of the plant, which would turn coal into a clean-burning fuel, would create about 1,500 construction jobs.