The redevelopers of a former Sault Ste. Marie paper mill have acquired another shuttered forest operation property on the north shore of Lake Superior.
Riversedge Developments has picked up the former Norampac linerboard mill in Red Rock and plan to start clearing and cleaning up the site for future development.
The company closed the deal on the vast 600-acre property with the Township of Red Rock on April 26.
Riversedge CEO Justus Veldman said his team isn’t arriving in town with any preconceived ideas or definitive plans on what should be done with the 60-year-old brownfield site.
He just wants to start remediation this year and make it “shovel-ready.”
And he’s asking Red Rock residents for their input on what should be built there.
“It has to be driven by the local community. We cannot dictate what could or should happen on that site. We are facilitators of the conversation.”
The mill has been closed since 2006, leaving 300 people out of work.
The property was sold to North American Logistics in 2007, which had designs on reopening the mill to manufacture hardwood flooring underlay. When those plans fell through, the company stripped the premises of all its machinery.
The township eventually took the property over on tax arrears.
Veldman said he learned about the site through his industry contacts and reached out to the township last year.
His company is also spearheading the redevelopment of the St. Marys Paper mill in Sault Ste. Marie. Located on that city’s waterfront, Riversedge’s Canal District master plan calls for a mixed-use concept of institutional, commercial, light industrial and residential uses. Most of the production buildings have been demolished except for some historically and architecturally significant structures which are being repurposed for community use.
Veldman said the Red Rock property comes with commercial marine access and rail and power connections which could lead to possible wood or mining-related operations. It also has some tourism and recreational potential.
“The scenery is absolutely fantastic,” he said. “The property has a major amount of waterfront (frontage) and I would be very surprised if that’s not what comes out of the discussion.”
Veldman admits it’ll be an expensive undertaking to clean up the site since the mill buildings contain asbestos.
But in the weeks ahead, the plan is to work with the Ministry of Environment (MOE) to evaluate the amount of remediation that’s to take place for the long term.
Conestoga-Rovers has been contracted by Riversedge to do an initial environmental assessment.
The arrival of the developer has created a buzz among residents in the town of 900, who packed into a community hall to hear a presentation from Veldman, May 8.
“This company moves fast,” said township CAO Kal Pristanski, who first met Veldman last fall.
“They did their due diligence in a month and a half, and really pushed this thing. They saw the potential and just went for it.”
Pristanski said the developer has his own ideas, including restoration of the former commercial wharf, but is pleased that he expressed a willingness to seek community input.
“A lot of people have expressed interest in a pellet plant. That seems to be big in Northern Ontario.”
Other developers have toured the site in the past, he said, but haven’t followed through.
“There are a number of liens on the property. They (Riversedge) have accepted those and they will be negotiating. They have their work cut out for them.”
Pristanski suspects the site will likely remain for industrial use since any kind of cleanup for residential use would cost many millions. And demolition could come soon.
“They say they’ll have everything down by snowfall, and I have no reason to believe that they won’t.”
The MOE said there are no major environmental issues with the property.
But as activity on-site picks up, ministry spokeswoman Lisa Brygidyr said there are some waste sites that must be capped and closed.
Norampac removed chemicals from the site during shutdown and there hasn’t been any discharge from a sewage system since 2008.
With new ownership in place, she said, the ministry will be working with the developer to ensure those environmental concerns are addressed.