EconTracker News

May 4, 2011 11:38 AM by Dennis Bragg (KPAX Media Center)

Smurfit-Stone mill buyer focuses on alternative fuels

MISSOULA- The Illinois-based firm that is buying the Smurfit-Stone Container mill in Frenchtown is no stranger to dealing with the company. In fact, they already own half-a-dozen other Smurfit sites.

Governor Brian Schweitzer is coming to Missoula today to announce details of the mill sale to Green Investment Group, Inc. ending more than a year of speculation about the future of the paper mill.

The mill closed in December 2009, throwing more than 400 people out of work. Since then, state and local leaders have been hoping to convert at least part of the facility for the use of generating alternative fuels, especially using the area's extensive sources of wood waste for biofuels.

Although we'll have more details in a few hours, it appears they may have found exactly what they were looking for.

Green Investments acquires and develops "brownfield sites" like abandoned or underutilized mills and industrial sites and turns them into facilities that use "energy technologies and alternative fuel sources." Some of that process uses recycling "waste streams" to generate fuel.

Here in Western Montana it seems likely that would involve the use the timber and logging "slash" to generate power.

Green Investments has already purchased former Smurfit mill sites in Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, and three properties in Canada, one in New Brunswick and two in Quebec.

The company had been mentioned repeatedly behind-the-scenes as a potential buyer for the site over the past several weeks.

Green Investment owners Ray Stillwell and Mark Spizzo are expected to join Schweitzer during the 12:30 press conference in Frenchtown and explain their detailed plans for the Frenchtown site and how many jobs their "phased conversion" approach might generate.

We're also hoping to learn more about the status of another buyer for the property than had surfaced back in March. Smurfit had announced it had a reached a tentative deal with Oregon real estate developer Tim Ralston's group to buy and scrap the mill. We may learn whether Ralston still has a role in purchasing any portion of the mill site, or whether Green Investments is the sole buyer.

Back in March, Schweitzer held an impromptu press conference outside the mill, warning Smurfit-Stone the state would insist the company be environmentally responsible for the mill's cleanup, and expressing hope there might still be a chance for using the property to create jobs.

Contact Dennis Bragg

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