The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Biofuels plant development expected to begin at Ontonagon paper mill


January 11, 2018

Jan Tucker/Daily Globe

Pat Tucker, left, provides an update to the rest of the Ontonagon County EDC Wednesday on the effort to locate a biofuel plant in Ontonagon. Also at the meeting were treasurer Nancy Hillier and president Sue Preiss, right, and other EDC members.


Ontonagon - A public announcement of the construction and development of a $300 million advanced biofuels plant at the site of the closed paper mill in Ontonagon is "expected shortly," Pat Tucker told the Ontonagon County Economic Development Corporation Wednesday.

He indicated SynSel Energy's closing on the funds - which are already secured - is in the process now of being transferred into the appropriate accounts. He said the process has been "moving slowly with four countries involved," but is moving as planned.

Tucker said officials from SynSel said they will come to Ontonagon for an open house and question and answer session to update the people about the project. SynSel has partnered with a U.S.-based financier and Lost Bowl Development on the project. Tucker, president of Lost Bowl - which owns the former paper mill site - told EDC Director Skip Schulz that Ontonagon has been the first choice for the plant "since the very beginning."

In a previous announcement, Tucker said the plant is expected to produce 250 direct and indirect jobs.

Tucker said the new development is also an opportunity for the return of the 12 miles of rail which was removed when the paper mill closed. He explained the rail is placed in the "rail bank."

"The state does not own that property, and the state has no choice if a rail is needed," he said, adding "the state cannot decide if it is a snowmobile trail or rail, the land is not owned by the state and the rail must go back if needed."

Scott Roehm said the effort should include restoring the Sidnaw-to-Bergland rail line and there would be a east-west corridor to Duluth and Marquette.

Because of the impending development; Tucker said he has received many calls from contractors and management officials who will be involved in the plant, asking about the Ontonagon Airport.

Most plan to fly into Ontonagon but the runway is 500 feet under the recommended length. They presently must fly into Ironwood and drive to Ontonagon. The Ontonagon County Airport already has a five-year plan to lengthen the runway. Tucker said instead of the cost being a burden on the county, grants and development moneys could be sought. Alan Ralph, a member of the EDC board, said a grant for a larger fuel tank could be sought as well. That would enable the airport to sell more fuel and possibly make a profit on it. The ideal, Ralph said, would be to lengthen the runway to 5,000 feet.

On the issue of restoring rail service, Schulz said if the 12 miles or more of snowmobile trails are returned to rail service, the Department of Natural Resources should restore the old snowmobile trail off M-38 which was taken out. Schulz said he will attend a meeting with DNR and snowmobile interests to let them know about the effort to restore the rail line when the new plant is built.

In other action, the EDC approved a letter of support for a new project proposed for the former White Pine Mine property. Roehm told the board JSPLogistics, LLC have plans to diversify itsoperations and open a manufacturing facility in the South-West Shaft in White Pine. Roehm said that area is useless because the three-phase power was removed and there is no power to the facility. The company is applying for government grants to restore the three-phase power. The application for grant funds is due Jan. 16 and the company would know the result in 60 days. JSP Logistics would manufacture components for the oil fields and would employ 10 people.

At the beginning of the meeting the present slate of officers - president Sue Preiss, vice president Tom Poisson, treasurer Nancy Hillier and secretary Ted Baird were unanimously re-elected to their posts.


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