Tom Courtney.

Tom Courtney.

A southeast Iowa senator says it is “way past time” for the legislature to investigate the foreign company that’s building a huge fertilizer plant in Wever. Senator Tom Courtney, a Democrat from Burlington, suggests the company isn’t turning out to be the economic godsend it was billed to be.

“When the governor first told us about this it was Orascom,” Courtney said this morning during a speech in the Iowa Senate. “People in my district now are calling it ‘Orascam’ because it seems to be a scam.”

Two construction companies hired to build the plant are suing Orascom for failing to pay tens of million dollars in bills. Local, state and federal officials pledged nearly half a billion dollars in tax breaks and other incentives to get the Egyptian company to build the plant in Lee County.

“I’m just sayin’ folks…why don’t we have some oversight going on here?” Courtney asked this morning. “…I have to wonder if we hadn’t given all this money to ‘Orascam’ is we wouldn’t have been in a lot better shape.”

The Iowa Fertilizer Company is projected to cost nearly $1.9 billion and is considered to be the largest construction project in state history. The work at the 320 acre site started in 2013.

“We were told it was an Egyptian owner was who coming in and he was going wonderful things,” Courtney said. “…Just so many jobs that they might have to create New York City or something in Lee County, there were going to be so many people wanting houses. It was just going to be a wonderful, wonderful thing and for that the governor and Iowa Economic Development along with the federal government and others pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the Orascom — ‘Orascam’ rather — plant.”

Nearly 1500 union workers at the plant site were laid off last spring and a Louisiana company was hired to complete construction. That company is now suing Orascom for $90 million. Companies in four other states have filed liens against the property, too, including one lien for 119-million dollars. Courtney said the most recent company hired to do work at the plant has had to fix construction errors.

“So the new company is having to go in and cut out welds, do major construction stuff and put in their own safe welds because the company from Louisiana just wasn’t doing it up to par,” Courtney said.

AUDIO of Courtney’s remarks

The plant is not in Courtney’s state senate district, but Wever is about a 15 minute drive from Courtney’s front door in Burlington and he said some of his constituents have worked at the plant. The plant will produce nitrogen fertilizer and Governor Branstad says Iowa farmers will benefit from reduced fertilizer costs.