In the bowels of the former St. Marys Paper mill, a paper-spooling machine sits gathering dust, a giant
spindle of paper still threaded through its components, silenced
after decades of operation. When production stopped here in the
spring of 2010, everyone just walked away, leaving more than 100
years of paper production, machinery, wood and employment behind.
In a matter of months, the machinery
and all modern buildings will be gone when demolition makes way for
new development, which will include a bioenergy component, as
proposed by the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre and Riversedge Developments.
The two organizations are teaming up to
transform a part of the 75-acre property into an “advanced
bioenergy and smart energy park,” which will allow for research and
pilot plants related to biofuels, district heating, alternative
energy technology and a technology research facility. It will be one
component to the Smart Energy Strategy devised by the city earlier
Willem Galle (above, left), chair of Riversedge Developments, and Jason Naccarato, vice-president of development at the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre, say the future of the St. Marys Paper site will be guided by bioenergy.
“Our role would be to develop
partnerships and look for technologies that would be a good fit for
here,” said Jason Naccarato, the innovation centre’s
vice-president of development. “We’d also look at technology
transfer and commercialization and try to take some of these research
projects into spinoffs, and just look out for any technology-based
partners we can come and bring to the site.”
Expansion into bioenergy will augment
the city’s mandate as the “alternative energy capital of North
America,” while creating jobs, encouraging research and boosting
economic development by creating spinoff companies located in the
Sault, Naccarato said.
Talks about creating a combined heat
and power (CHP) project on the site are ongoing, and Naccarato said
Essar Steel Algoma has expressed preliminary interest in getting
involved. An advisory committee is being assembled comprising members
from Sault College, Algoma University, the Economic Development Corporation and Riversedge, and representatives from private sector
companies are being sought as well.
Riversedge proposes turning the site
into a combined research/residential/office space. After purchasing
the property last spring, Riversedge held consultations to get
community input and began site reclamation efforts. The original
sandstone buildings will remain on site—the administration office
has been deemed a heritage building and can’t be touched—while
all modern buildings will be removed by Christmas.
Willem Galle, executive chair at
Riversedge, envisions condos and executive offices where the bulk of
the mill was located, on the eastern portion of the site, with the
research and pilot plant component located on the western edge,
closer to the International Bridge.
A green space will act as a buffer
between the sites and Galle proposes a community gathering place for
one of the buildings at the centre of the property. Comprised of
sandstone and being dubbed ‘Mill Square,’ the structure had been
hidden by conveyor belts and was only rediscovered when demolition
Spindles of paper were left threaded through machines after the mill closed in 2010.
Sault architectural firm EPOH has been
contracted to study the residential component of the project. Final
details are far from complete, and Galle cautions time is necessary
to ensure the proper plan is hatched for the site.
“Everybody is willing to talk new
ideas, but nobody is planning to do anything stupid,” he said.
Now that the city and Riversedge have
created a framework for economic development for the site, they can
go ahead and fill in the details, he added.
“Before it really gets contracted,
there needs to be a more comprehensive plan, but the thing about this
sort of planning, it’s not really planning, it’s more designing,”
he said. “With a design you need to start with some fixed point on
the compass because otherwise the details never come.”
There has already been interest in
using the administration building for office space, and in early
fall, a film crew repurposed one of the more derelict buildings to
emulate a bombed out Afghanistan cave. The local police service has
even used some of the buildings for training.
The mounds of debris accumulating on
site will all be recycled or repurposed, Galle said. Concrete will be
crushed to use as fill, while metal and rebar can be recycled.
However, it’s unknown what will be done with the stacks of wood
that remain on site.
It belongs to the Ministry of Natural Resources, Galle said, and it will be up to the ministry to collect
it from the site. Untouched for more than a year, the wood is likely
no longer fit for use in paper-making, but it could be turned into
pellets or wood chips, he added.
Naccarato said that, with the cost of
oil rising, it makes good business sense to invest in renewable
energy technology that doesn’t rely on government subsidies, while
providing a rejuvenation of a dying forestry industry.
“This whole industry was built on the
old way of Canadian forestry, and the old way of making money off the
forests and monetizing the forests,” Naccarato said. “I think
it’s going to head in the next era of forestry monetization.”