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Former Nipigon plywood mill site not suitable for biochar plant

Environmental contaminants has company looking for alternative sight in rural township

Lake Nipigon Forest Management Inc (LNFMI) has determined that the old mill site in Nipigon is not suitable for them to move forward with plans for a new facility.

The site sat vacant after a fire burnt down the mill managed by Multiply Forest Products Inc. in 2007. That is, until a local contractor began paying for and using the property as storage and a staging area, allowing the township to recoup some of their losses.

It was in January of this year that LNFMI proposed an innovative project in which they would purchase the site and transform it into a plant that would have produced natural gas and biochar from waste wood.

The process is essentially a carbon-reducing alternative to fossil fuels.

The tentative plan was for construction and operation by late 2024.

However, a new report ordered and paid for by the company and shared with the Nipigon town council has brought things to a halt.

“A few months ago, unfortunately, we were told by the [LNFMI] that a study had been done — the phase two environmental assessment had been done on our mill site and there is some contamination there that is going to prevent them from moving forward with their plans on that site,” said Mayor Suzanne Kukko.

Company general manager Scot Rubin referred to the report when mentioning that the old mill used fire hoses to clean out lubricants and sawdust, which seeped into the ground soil and became flushed-out over a broad portion of the site.

Besides the cost of actually removing contaminants, trucking in loads of fresh soil to build on also adds greatly to the cost of potential development.

“Trying to go in, reclaim that site, and the delay that would cause was too much for us to bite off — being a small company, trying to get up and started here,” said Rubin.

The site would have employed at least 13 people including administration, equipment operators, and truck drivers.

“For labour force and being located right inside a community, it’s way easier to connect to your workforce or your people,” said Rubin. “And that is the biggest drawback moving away.”

The company is still assessing alternatives, such as building their head office in Nipigon to employ locals that way.

Despite the disappointing news, Kukko said that she is grateful to the company for providing her and council with the environmental report.

She also mentioned that the town will continue to explore their options.

“We’re going to look at that report and see if we can use it as a supporting document to apply for some funding to be able to cleanup that site and maybe get [LNFMI] back or get something else going there.”

The company is still moving forward with the natural gas and biochar plant — but now have their sights set on a location in Hurkett, a rural township to the southwest, on the north shore of Lake Superior.

In other words, there is no slowing down despite the pivot in location choice, Rubin insisted.

“This project’s been expanding quite fast from where we were about a year ago,” said Rubin. “We’re looking at doubling the size of the plant within the local area, in the near future – so then, it was looking at a site that accommodates twice as many trucks and those items coming in on-site.”

While Rubin mentioned that they’re still exploring and making sure things are good-to-go in Hurkett, a recently completed environmental assessment of the property came back with clean results.

Rubin said they’re “trying to keep it as close to the Nipigon area as possible.”

“It is a more local approach to forestry and trying to bring that closer to the woods and so that’s why we have dedicated [ourselves] around that area,” said Rubin.

Once a full feasibility study is completed at the new site in Hurkett, Rubin said the company is hoping to break ground and begin actual construction in the spring.

“It’s a huge positive,” said Rubin, “for environmental [reasons] but also for local workforce and creating more jobs out of the same resources, helping our contractors that are out there working to utilize more of the material that is being harvested on-site.”

- SNNewsWatch