Legislators talk lumber at meeting about future pellet plant

Red pine logs are shown in this 2006 file photo. Forum News Service

BEMIDJI -- State legislators and industry representatives met Tuesday in Bemidji to discuss details of a proposed wood pellet plant.

NorthStar Pellets is looking to build a facility in the Bemidji region that could create 45 jobs. According to information provided at the meeting by Greater Bemidji Economic Development, NorthStar's plan is to invest $30 million to build, equip and open the facility near the PotlatchDeltic lumber mill just off U.S. Highway 2, nine miles southeast of Bemidji.

If built, the NorthStar plant would be the first of its kind in the state creating pellets. The pellet products are made from chips and sawdust which is leftover from logs at sawmills. On an annual basis, the plant would generate $17 million in export revenue and the plant is expected to purchase $6.8 million in wood residuals from state loggers.

According to Greater Bemidji Executive Director Dave Hengel, the meeting was called following a development in the Duluth area.

"The forest products industry is very much a domino industry, where if you lose a plant, it has an effect all the way down," Hengel said. "The urgency of the meeting was because of the closing of the Verso paper mill in Duluth."


Greater Bemidji's data shows the proposed plant could help the regional forest products industry, though, as the average global demand for pellets has grown by 2.5 million metric tons annually.

The reason for legislative representation being a key part of Tuesday's conversation was NorthStar has requested state assistance for hauling the products to the west coast. If constructed, the plant would transport the pellets to a port in Vancouver for exporting to Asia.

In both chambers of the Minnesota Legislature, local legislators introduced bills in 2020 that would provide $2.5 million annually for 10 years to help with transporting the pellets. While the legislation wasn't passed in the 2020 session, legislators said they'd keep supporting the project at the Capitol.

"It's a no-brainer to me," said District 5A Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji. "I've been talking about this for some time and we have a bill in the House to help provide the necessary funding to help get this off the ground."

"I'm very excited about the potential this has," District 5 Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids said. "It's a great project and a great opportunity, especially during this down economy, to bring some jobs back and help this industry as a whole."

If the legislation is passed and the project moves forward, Hengel said the permitting process would take about six months and a 12-month construction period would follow.

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