Shown is the intersection of Industrial Drive and Illinois Rt. 130. The new renewable fuels plant will be located in the industrial park located down Industrial Drive.

Newton and Jasper County officials recently announced plans to build a $400 million renewable diesel plant that will also implement technology to test and certify a COVID-19-free workplace.

The city and county are partnering with St. Joseph Renewable Fuels, LLC to construct the the plant on a 40-acre site in Newton’s industrial park, located at the south end of town.

The site is within a federally designated Opportunity Zone – areas identified by the federal government as distressed and in need of transformation by economic development, investment and revitalization.

Jasper County Economic Development Coordinator Amber Volk said the plant will bring 100 permanent jobs to the county, something that can help its economy beyond just the plant.

“That will be huge, but with those 100 jobs comes, hopefully, more people that are looking to purchase homes, to build homes, to come back into our community and even to implement all of the businesses that we currently have in the county, whether it be the gas stations or the grocery stores all of the mom-and-pop shops,” Volk said. “We’re looking to have more of an economic boom in Jasper County.”

The renewable fuel plant will also bring 200 construction jobs for the two-year construction phase and 300 trucking jobs for the state once the plant is in operation.

The facility will utilize waste fats and greases from the 1,000-mile region around Newton and convert the waste into 90 million gallons of diesel and naptha fuel annually, as well as seven million gallons of technical-grade glycerin.

The multi-million dollar project will be funded by tax incentives offered by the city of Newton and through state and federal funding.

Newton Mayor Mark Bolander predicted that the plant will also draw workers from counties and towns surrounding Jasper County.

“It’s going to be a game changer, not just for Newton and Jasper County. It’s for the region. There will be people from Effingham County that will be working in this facility. There will be people from Richland County, Crawford County, Cumberland County. It’s going to help the entire region,” Bolander said.

“Probably one from each of those households is going to have a job there and what about the spouse? What about the kids? They’re all going to be involved in the economic development of our community as well because they’re going to need a job and they’re going to need a place to put their kids in school and so on and so forth.”

Jasper County Board Chairman Ron Heltsley agreed.

“Any time you have 100-plus jobs coming to a community the size of Newton and Jasper County, that’s a gift, and we are so thankful for this opportunity,” Heltsley said.

COVID-19 testing

Along with the new fuel plant will come the implementation of HealthCheckIn, an app and testing initiative aimed at allowing the country, state and counties to re-open from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jasper County has been one of the hardest hit counties in its immediate region during the pandemic, with most of its reported cases stemming from the Newton Care Facility. The Jasper County Health Department reported on May 14 the county had 46 positive COVID-19 cases with 35 people recovered and seven deaths.

HealthCheckIn is an in-home testing concept app, developed in partnership with Cyberus Labs. The app will offer secure daily infection testing using Food and Drug Administration-approved in-home test devices.

Plant employees will test themselves daily, and results would be ready in about 15 minutes. According to a recent press release, each testing device will be provided as part of the St. Joseph Renewable Fuels facility development plan, with tests costing $15 to $25.

According to the release, the testing system is HIPAA, OSHA and General Data Protection Regulation compliant, and the user cannot manipulate the results.

The in-home testing initiative could be offered to other entities within the county as well, including the Jasper County school district, local police officers, firefighters and emergency responders, front line healthcare workers, essential retailers and more.

Bolander said bringing in the HealthCheckIn element to the plant project will help ensure safe workplaces for the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic and for times other infectious diseases could affect businesses and the economy.

“It basically has to do with peace of mind. The employer and the employees both want peace of mind that with the building of this facility and the operation of this facility everybody’s safe. Everybody’s healthy,” Bolander said.

“It’s also to help prevent any additional spread here in the county,” Volk added. “Our nursing home, unfortunately, got hit with a bad case of (COVID-19), so this is just another way for this company to prevent something like that.”

Volk said some community members are concerned that the HealthCheckIn test will be forced upon all residents of the county, but she said that will not be the case. She said St. Joseph Renewable Fuels chose to implement the testing on its own.

While there is no set timeline on when construction of the facility will begin, Volk said groundbreaking will happen sometime this year.

Also involved in the project are New York-based specialty finance firm Lance Capital and its New Zealand joint venture partner Lance-Kamaka Capital Ltd., which serves as a lender on the St. Joseph Renewable Fuels plant and sponsors the HealthCheckIn protocol concept. Also involved is Cyberus Labs and the joint venture between McDermott and Chevron Oil.

Kaitlin Cordes can be reached at kaitlin.cordes@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151 ext. 132.

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