Why Fort Frances? Much Study Preceded Actual Construction
How come the Fort Frances kraft mill? What economic and technological considerations guided O-M in it’s decision to invest $45 million in this facility? What’s the background for this immense expansion?
The Ontario-Minnesota Pulp and Paper Company Ltd. studied the feasibility of a new Kraft mill for a number of years. the O-M at Fort Frances and Kenora, and the sister company’s operations at International Falls, operate a total of nine paper machines with an average daily production of 1700 tons of paper.
These paper machines aren’t new but some have been rebuilt over the past few years and others will be modernized and sped up as market conditions and capital funds permit. This means a continued ans expanding demand for wood pulp to make paper.
Paper grades made in these mills use much groundwood or mechanical pulp produced by pressing logs against rapidly rotating grindstones in the presence of water. Fort strength and light color, most of this groundwood pulp must be made from spruce and balsam fir, although some poplar species and a little jackpine are used.
Groundwood pulp must be mixed with with chemical pulp to provide the necessary strength in the finished paper.
Historically, the Kenora mill has produced its own chemical pulp by the sulfite process, and still does. The International Falls mill has made chemical pulp by both the sulfite and kraft process for its own use and Fort Frances — and in turn received groundwood pulp produced in Fort Frances.
In April, 1967, the Falls sulfite mill was closed down, mainly because of water pollution problems, Since that time, the chemical pulp production of the three mills as not been enough to supply the demand of the paper machines. Market pulp has been purchased outside the Company.
A second factor has been the under-utilization of jackpine in the area. The sulfite process used in Kenora cannot make chemical pulp from jackpine because of color and pitch problems, and it’s use in groundwood pulp is limited for the same reasons. The International Falls kraft pulp mill does use much jackpine, but this is an old mill, cramped for space and difficult to expand. The necessity to by-pass jackpine tends to increase the cost of harvesting other wood species and creates undesirable changes in the composition of the forest.
These factors led the O-M in 1967 to make a feasibility study for a new Kraft pulp mill in the border area. Requested by J. G. Crump, O-M general manager, the study was conducted by the central engineering dept. in International Falls under the description of E. O. Wood. The study was completed in June 1967, and showed that such a project would probably be successful.
During the remainder of 1967 and in 1968 the report was evaluated by corporate officials and various alternatives and modifications studied in some detail. By the end of 1968, Fort Frances was established as the preferred location and the best pulp mill size to match wood supply and paper mill needs was determined to be 400-500 tons per day.
John del Valle, O-M president, made the decision in early 1969 o proceed with detailed engineering for the project. Since Boise Cascade’s central engineering dept. was involved at the time with construction of the DeRider, La., mill and expansion of the St, Helen’s Ore., pulp mill, a four-man task force was chosen to pick and engineering consultant and to represent O-M developing the region.
Jack Haase of the Wallula, Wash., plant (now Fort Frances mill manager); R. E. Shinn, also from Wallula; E. O. Wood, Central Engineering and W. A Krask, Pulp and Paper Research, both of International Falls, were selected as the four-man team.
This group toured the newest Canadian bleached kraft mills in April-May 1969 to observe the latest trends in design, and also evaluated a number of consulting engineering firms. H. A. Simons international (1967) Ltd. of Vancouver, B.C. was selected to do the detailed engineering the O-M task force then moved to Vancouver, in June 1969, and set up working quarters in the H. A. Simons offices for best efficiency and closest cooperation with the engineers.
The process design and site layouts were promptly developed to the point where a detailed budget could be prepared. This was submitted to management and approved in September 1969. Purchasing of major then began and structural design was expected to permit the start of construction in the spring of 1970. Dale Neuman of the Portland, Ore., office joined the group during this period to handle financial and accounting details.
First activity on the Fort Frances site was a soil-testing program in December of 1969. Results indicated that all major buildings and equipment would require piling support because of the clay sub-soil. Accordingly, a contract for the piling was awarded to McGraw-McDonald of Winnipeg and work commenced on the site in February 1970.
The major civil and structural contract was awarded to Commonwealth Construction Co. Ltd.,whose crews arrived on site in April 1970. Work was rushed on all major structures in order to have them closed in before winter
In midsummer 1970, B. A. Martz, former Kenora plant engineer who had supervised construction of DeRidder mill, arrived in Fort Frances to assume the same responsibility on this project.
As the design load tapered off and the construction tempo quickened, the task force moved to the site. Buildings were enclosed before he weather became too severe and in late October 1970 the major mechanical-electrical contractor, Comstock International Construction, began operations. The work crews had built up steadily as the job progressed. Occupancy of the construction camp on the grounds reached a peak of 277 in June 1971. Hundreds of others found lodging elsewhere in Fort Frances and at International Falls. Peak employment was 656 men.
By midsummer 1971, the civil contract was essentially complete except for repairs and final site grading and Commonwealth Construction moved off the site. As the end of the job neared, all contractors cut down on work crews and in early October dismantling of the construction camp began.
With the start-up approaching, a cross-Canada search was made in the spring of this year to find experienced personnel to operate the new mill. This program was directed by Gerry Hutchinson, who joined Boise Cascade in 1969 and had been at the St. Helens, Ore., and Newcastle, N.B., before coming to Fort Frances as general superintendent, kraft. At the same time, employees in existing operations at Fort Frances were interviewed for jobs in the new mill and selection of the crew proceeded.
The four shift supervisors, Rob Easterly, Doug Gadsden, Don Kosterow and Bill Sinclair, came on the job in June and played a leading part in the development of training manuals and in operator training, Basic instruction for men with no previous kraft experience, selected from Fort Frances mill was given in August. Specialized training for all operations at the new woodroom came in August and the steam plant started up in September. First trial runs of the pulping facilities went the week of November 7, the entire mill was in operation.