Potential Sappi expansion takes shape before county boardA clearer picture began to emerge of a major expansion project proposed for Sappi Fine Paper’s Cloquet mill during a presentation at Tuesday’s meeting of the Carlton County Board.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
A clearer picture began to emerge of a major expansion project proposed for Sappi Fine Paper’s Cloquet mill during a presentation at Tuesday’s meeting of the Carlton County Board.
Known in company parlance as the Hercules Project, the plan calls for the addition of a new paper machine and boiler as well as ancillary support services. Though the plan has been thoroughly laid out on paper in the form of an environmental permit application to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (released to the public last week in an Environmental Impact Worksheet), Sappi’s Tom Collins reiterated to commissioners that the project is far from being a done deal.
“The current paper market and the overall economy are not conducive to an investment of this magnitude at this time,” stated Collins. “The permit we applied for makes future consideration and potential construction possible but doesn’t guarantee anything.”
In the meantime Sappi has been doing its homework on the project in the eventuality that the expansion can and will be undertaken in the foreseeable future. Part of that homework, Collins stated, has been to plan out the type of design and technology choices that would make the addition of a new paper machine as low impact as possible on the community and the environment.
“It will be a big machine that is pretty much benign to the public,” Collins explained in layman’s terms.
Collins said the scope of the new project is sized to fit the existing footprint of the mill property, with approximately 620,000 gross square feet of new floor space anticipated for the paper machine addition and related structures, all of which he said would be “completely integrated and self sustaining.”
The heights of the proposed buildings would be similar to the mill’s existing paper manufacturing facilities, with the highest building slated to be 93 feet tall and the stack at 125 feet.
The expansion would be located where the mill’s wood yard now exists, which Collins said would make it “barely visible” from the street, thereby mitigating any overriding visual impact on the community.
The wood yard would be shifted to the site of the former Potlatch tree nursery along Cloquet Avenue (Highway 45) and 18th Street. The EAW stated the company envisions mitigating the visual appearance of the wood yard by limiting wood pile heights to 25 feet, maintaining a 25-foot setback from sidewalks and roadways, and utilizing vegetative screening, berms and fencing. Any additional noise generated by the relocation of the wood yard to an area adjacent to a residential district will be mitigated by limiting typical operating hours to daylight hours and maintaining a pile of wood or chips on the west side of the yard to provide as much of a sound barrier as possible.
Collins further stated the project, if undertaken, would change the existing traffic patterns in the area of the mill, with the main gate slated to be moved 500 feet south of the current main gate entrance to 18th Street, along with a partial closure of Avenue B in the vicinity of the mill. He added the plan would be for 18th Street North to be widened to three lanes to accommodate increased truck and employee traffic, with a turn lane added along Cloquet Avenue to facilitate access to the 18th Street entrance. A third stop sign would be added to the intersection of Avenue B and 18th Street North to reduce vehicle speeds entering the plant.
As far as the overall cumulative impacts of the proposed project, Collins reported to commissioners that the EAW has determined that both the existing mill and the addition would comply with applicable air quality and water standards. The EAW determined the only increased cancer risk from mill emissions would possibly be posed if residents consumed at least a half-pound of fish caught in the St. Louis River or Thomson Reservoir four to five times a week year round.
As far as any increased odors related to the proposed paper machine, Collins explained the paper machine operations themselves are relatively odorless, so that should not be a factor.
Collins said the public comment period on the Environmental Assessment Worksheet for the proposed expansion will be open through June 3, and he anticipates the permit will be approved by early summer.
Commissioner Gordon Aanerud asked Collins about employment opportunities to be created by the project, and Collins said the company anticipates the need for an additional 100-200 permanent jobs, as well as about 2,000 construction jobs during the implementation phase.
“This looks like the mill is going to be on very solid ground for many years into the future,” commented Commissioner Ted Pihlman. “The mill has always meant good-paying jobs in Cloquet, and we appreciate the impact this project stands to have on the rest of the county as well.”