Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter

While Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter was criticized for not taking a more active role in development of a proposed fertilizer plant in American Falls, it turns out he was working behind the scenes to bring the project to fruition.

Otter spent a day in Power County walking the site of a proposed nitrogen fertilizer plant and talking to locals about the project before meeting with representatives from ConAgra Food, who objected to the plant, which will be built adjacent to its Lamb Weston processing center.

Magnida cleared a major hurdle in April when the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality issued an air permit for the proposed plant. CEO Ric Sorbo said Houston-based Magnida secured 40 permits to get to the construction phase of the project.

However, ConAgra appealed the air permit issued by the DEQ in June.

ConAgra asked that the plant be relocated about three miles from the current proposed site adjacent to its Lamb Weston plant.

Sorbo said since Magnida signed onto the project three years ago, the company has spent $40 million on preliminary studies for the $2 billion fertilizer plant and relocating was not an option.

The governor had multiple meetings with ConAgra and Magnida, and those discussions led to ConAgra withdrawing its appeal in December.

Otter said the project is an important economic development project that will lead to better paying jobs that will help spur not only the local economy but the state economy as well.

Magnida will begin hiring and training this year and construction could start this summer.

The project will employ about 1,900 workers during the three-year construction phase, and when it’s complete, the plant will hire 160 full-time workers.

Otter is taking the same hands-on approach with other economic development projects in the state, meeting regularly with CEOs from companies looking to relocate in Idaho, as well as business leaders already operating in the Gem State.

“Economic development and job creation is one of my top priorities and will remain a top priority for the rest of my term in office,” Otter said Thursday.

Kristen Jensen, executive director of Great Rift Business Development, said she receives up to 10 inquiries each month from individuals interested in employment and another dozen from companies hoping to provide services at the fertilizer plant.

“The excitement level for the project continues to be sustained by the hope that American Falls will receive an economic boost during the construction phase and long-term residential growth after completion,” Jensen said. “I am hopeful the key components for reaching financial close will come together for Magnida.”

Jensen said the company is moving forward with optimism.

Sorbo said last June that Magnida was shopping the project to several international banks to raise the remainder of the financing for the plant.

Magnida will provide $500 million to $600 million toward completion of the plant.