Triumph pork plant in St. Joseph, Missouri
Triumph Foods General Forman Boning Operations Thom Ford inspects one of the cuts of pork being processed Thursday at the plant in St. Joseph MO., Ford moved from Davenport in August of 2005 to work at the new plant. (Quad-City Times file photo) Kevin E. Schmidt

The land in East Moline has sat idle for several years. But Missouri-based Triumph Foods officials said Tuesday that they are slowly moving forward again with plans to build a hog-processing plant on that Quad-City area site.

The company is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA — now led by former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack — to secure a loan guarantee for the project, which is expected to cost at least $150 million, said R. Patt Lilly, the company’s chief administrative officer.

A guarantee would mean that the USDA would back a certain amount or percentage of a banking facility’s loan for the project. The company believes that would make the project more attractive as it continues working to secure financing, Lilly said.

And Triumph is getting support from U.S. Rep. Phil Hare and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, both D-Ill., in that effort, Hare said in an e-mail sent Tuesday to the Quad-City Times.

If financing is secured in a timely manner, Triumph hopes to begin site development work in East Moline this fall and begin construction in the spring — maybe as early as March 2011 — Lilly said.

“But that’s a tentative schedule at this point,” he added. “There are a lot of balls in the air on this.”

The East Moline plant is intended to look similar in both design and size to Triumph’s plant in St. Joseph, Mo., where the company has its headquarters. Lilly, however, said the company might look to tweak the design in East Moline a little, based on experiences with its Missouri plant.

“Certainly we’ve learned some things with what we’ve done here,” he said by telephone.

East Moline Mayor John Thodos said a lot of people “above my pay grade” have been involved in pushing the effort forward again, referring to U.S. lawmakers who are working with Triumph. He added that the push could not have come at a better time.

“I tell you, the unemployment rate is close to 10 percent now,” he said. “We’ll always have people who are opposed to this. But some of those who were opposed in the past are now looking for work. It’s all about jobs.”

Thodos said the Triumph plant would create about 2,500 jobs inside the plant and possibly another 500 positions in laundry service, security and other services necessary to operate the facility.

With the State of Illinois falling short on its payments to local governments, among many others, the mayor said the Triumph project would stabilize the city’s revenue stream, and “the payroll will make a big difference” in the community.

“The Triumph Foods project in East Moline appears to be right on track,” Hare, the congressman from Rock Island, said. “The U.S. Department of Commerce continues to vet this project for Economic Development Administration funding, and Sen. Durbin and I continue to work with the secretary of USDA (Vilsack) to approve a Rural Development Business and Industry Loan Guarantee for the project.”

But to the many people who have worked long and hard against the Triumph project, Tuesday’s news was not welcome. Doug Riel has been an outspoken opponent, traveling to the Missouri plant seven times and researching the many financial and environmental impacts he believes the East Moline project could have on the Quad-Cities and beyond.

He said the plant’s negative impacts would ripple across Iowa and Illinois, and its massive pork production could put other companies out of business.

“The implications are much larger than just environmental,” Riel said. “The benefits to the area locally are not what they have been advertised to be.”