M2Green Redevelopment manager Ray Stillwell hopes to see big changes at the former Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. mill site by the end of the year, despite its potential designation as a federal Superfund cleanup project.
“We have things that could easily happen in 2013,” Stillwell said Monday during a visit to the Missoulian. “A Superfund designation adds an element of marketing challenge. It creates a perception there’s a problem with moving forward. But we believe the Denver EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) office is supportive of getting the education out there so prospective renters or buyers can come on site and not be responsible for environmental conditions.”
As part of a weeklong marketing and support-building effort in Missoula, Stillwell said he’ll be meeting with government officials, business leaders and community members connected with the mill site to explain the possibilities. It has been renamed the Frenchtown Technology and Industrial Center, and about three-quarters of the papermaking machinery at the mill has been demolished and sold for parts or scrap.
That leaves a 3,000-acre property with 1 million square feet of warehouses, machine shops, offices and other infrastructure. The site has rail and truck loading facilities, 70 megawatts of electrical service, industrial-scale natural gas supply and rights to 25 million gallons of water a day. It also has two permitted gravel pits and one class 3 landfill, along with a yard capable of handling a million tons of wood per year.
The challenge comes from recent investigations that found high levels of toxic chemicals on 138 acres, mainly in cooling ponds and other landfills. Missoula City-County Environmental Health Supervisor Peter Nielsen said that’s about the size of the University of Montana campus, and most of it sits in the Clark Fork River floodplain.
However, Missoula County wants to see those areas separated from the rest of the site to improve M2Green’s chances of getting business going there, Nielsen said.
“That’s very doable,” Nielsen said. “It’s been done in many other places. The county wants to work with them so they can be successful.”
Gov. Brian Schweitzer officially notified the EPA in December that the mill site needed to be placed on the federal National Priority List for cleanup. That decision could be made in April, after which the agency would detail the required cleanup.
Stillwell said the Frenchtown site was the only one of six Smurfit-Stone mills his company has bought for redevelopment that’s reached this point of federal oversight, although all the others have had cleanup issues. Although he told Missoula County officials last fall M2Green wanted to pursue a private cleanup path, he did not indicate any plans to fight the Superfund designation.
“We don’t have adverse goals,” Stillwell said. “We do environmental work, too. This is a very formalized approach, and unfortunately that takes more time.”
The site could host a variety of separate or cooperative ventures, Stillwell said. One M2Green facility in Canada is working on mining its landfills, which contain a mix of old paper waste, for biofuel and fly ash that can be refined for metals.
“We’d like to see things where one company’s off-take or byproduct might be feedstock for a neighbor,” he said. “We’re very serious about marketing this as broadly as we can.”
That includes international outreach for industries such as the oil-and-gas equipment fabricators for the Bakken and Alberta energy fields, chemical production, woody biomass refining and other emerging technology markets.
“We think this community is a great one to build on,” Stillwell said. “We see Missoula as a friendly environment.”