Huber Engineered Woods submitted a new environmental analysis for its planned $440million Iron Range plant after being challenged by environmentalists, business groups, and a competitor mill that required a more thorough review.
The state Legislature approved last year a carveout for the plant, allowing it to forgo the longer environmental impact statements process normally required for projects of this size.
The Updated environmental assessment worksheet(EAW), amends the original version of the shorter forms filed last fall. It contains more information about Minnesota’s timber supply as well as details on greenhouse gas emissions at Huber’s Cohasset, Minn. plant that will make oriented Strand Board.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the facility will emit almost 450,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide. This makes it the 13th-largest source of greenhouse gases in the state.
Huber claims that the project will be a net-carbon sink because those emissions will be more than offset using “carbon-neutral wood-burning furnaces” and carbon captured in wood products.
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy said that oriented strandboard, which is similar and comparable to particle board, “may be able to have some positive effects on climate, due to the presence of carbon in the product and its use instead of other, carbon-intensive construction materials.”
However, the group demanded that the review be more thorough and stated that “like other corporations involved in activities that affect Minnesota’s environmental environment, (Huber),” has the resources as well as the responsibility to thoroughly study and disclose these impacts before granting governmental approval for the project.”
The mill will consume approximately 900,000 tonnes of aspen wood each year, or 400,000 cords annually. Last fall, the Bemidji Chamber of Commerce stated it opposed the project without accounting of how an increase in timber harvest would affect the environment and West Fraser’s Norbord mill at Solway, Minn.
The University of Minnesota’s Department of Forest Resources stated that the mill’s wood use “will not have significant environmental impacts on Minnesota’s forest resources.”
“With the addition (Huber) facility Minnesota’s statewide lumber harvest would be approximately 3.21 Million cords per year, still more that 2.2 Million cords below the estimated maximum harvest levels for timber resource sustainability,” Michael Kilgore wrote in a company analysis of timber supplies.
Although permits are required at every level, from the local to federal, the project has received millions in taxpayer subsidies. This includes a $27 million state production incentive and $15 million forgivable loan, both from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.
Officials at the Huber project are getting ahead of themselves, according to West Fraser, a competitor who also makes oriented Strand Board.
Andrew Moratzka, a Canadian wood products company, wrote that “Understanding enthusiasm does not remove the need for careful scrutiny and robust application of applicable laws and regulatory requirements, including environmental review.”
The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, which has reservation borders one mile west of the proposed facility, stated that a full environmental impact report is required to examine possible effects on treaty rights.
The EAW process is normally handled by state agencies. However, the Cohasset City Council will oversee it. The Council will decide this spring whether the review was adequate and the project can proceed without an environment impact statement.
Huber plans to start construction on the 750,000-square foot facility in the latter part of the year and have it running by 2025. It is expected that it will employ approximately 150 people.
“We are grateful for the feedback from community members and stakeholders and we have revised the EAW accordingly in order to take into consideration the feedback,” Brian Carlson, Huber president, stated in a statement. “We will continue to work with interested parties to move this project towards construction.