Abitibi applies to close roads for proposed hog fuel boiler

Abitibi-Consolidated has applied to the town to re-zone some of its property, amend the official plan, and stop up portions of two streets in preparation for a new waste fuel boiler the mill is trying to get here to produce electricity and reduce its operating costs.
Mayor Dan Onichuk told council during Monday night’s meeting that the applications are to re-zone property Abitibi owns on Portage Avenue and Sinclair Street, as well as to acquire and shut down roads in that area, specifically Portage Avenue from Nelson Street to Sinclair Street, and Sinclair Street from Portage Avenue to the west side of Victoria Avenue.
“This is crucial for the long-term because it will accommodate a possible new boiler system, referred to as a hog fuel boiler, which will produce electricity,” said the mayor.
“Hog fuel is basically biodegradable product, like limbs of trees and grass clippings, that sort of thing,” he added, noting that right now, branches are cut off trees in the bush and left there to be rounded up and burned during slash pile burning season.
With the hog fuel boiler, the trimmings would be bundled up, transported to the mill here, and burned to produce steam and electricity for the paper mill, reducing its power costs considerably.
“It’s a step in the right direction to ensuring the long-term stability of the paper mill,” remarked Mayor Onichuk.
“It’s a very important initiative for the community, and I want to assure you that administration has expedited this process and made the timelines as short as possible,” Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig told council.
“The steps that we can do as an administrative level have been done.”
Mayor Onichuk noted the road closures are necessary for the running of the hog fuel boiler, which “is going to change the landscape of Fort Frances.”
He said he’s been told the boiler operation, which includes various large conveyor belt systems, could be upwards of three-quarters the size of the kraft mill.
The project is projected to cost between $50-$60 million.
The mayor also noted he’s had frequent talks with local mill manager John Harrison, saying there’s two ways the hog fuel boiler could proceed.
It could be up and running in two years if Abitibi’s board of directors approves the purchase of a used one, or three years if they want it brand new.
“A two-year plan would obviously be better because it would take Abitibi from operating in the red to operating in the black,” the mayor said.
Harrison was not available for comment prior to press time today.
Mayor Onichuk noted the new boiler definitely has the potential to change traffic flow in the affected area—and that this will be addressed as details of the plan are confirmed.
At Monday night’s meeting, the applications both to re-zone the property and amend the town’s official plan were forwarded to the municipal planner.
Meanwhile, the request to stop up the streets and transfer that property to Abitibi-Consolidated was forwarded to the clerk to set a date for a public meeting.
These applications also were forwarded to all of the town’s departments for further input.
Clerk Glenn Treftlin clarified yesterday this is just the beginning of an extensive process.
“There is a process, as prescribed by the Planning Act, to follow which involves notice of a public meeting, a bylaw or maybe two bylaws, and, of course, because of implications of neighbouring properties, notices published in the paper so anybody can attend the public meeting and get a chance to say what they want,” Treftlin said of the re-zoning and official plan amendments.
“Then there’s the road closures,” he added. “Because there’s utilities involved, all the town departments, in particular Public Works, and the telephone utility and hydro and gas company will be notified of the proposal to stop up, close, and sell those particular portions of those streets.
“So if they do have utilities in there, and there are easements required to protect their infrastructure, then that’s looked after in the process, as well.
“And then there is a public meeting regarding those closures, as well,” Treftlin noted.