Moving forward: EDC hears biofuel, rail and dredging updates

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette Sue Preiss (left) and Ted Baird of the Ontonagon Economic Development Corporation hear updates on long-term projects Wednesday.

ONTONAGON — The Ontonagon Economic Development Corporation (EDC) met Wednesday, revisiting three long-term projects: river dredging, reinstalling the rail system, and the SynSel biofuel plant plans.

EDC member Pat Tucker and owner of Lost Bowl Development, holder of the former paper mill site where the biofuel plant will be located, said things continue to move forward.

“I just got back last night from a meeting with the owners of the technology and the engineering company that will be doing the design work on the plant,” Tucker said.

After two days of meetings, he reported that talks “went really well,” but warned it may be a while before on-site activity starts.

“There is a fairly extensive design, front-end engineering period before you’re going to see activity here but it is moving forward,” he said.

Some site work could start as early as next year but the timeline for completion is three and a half to four years at this point.

“It’s between a three and a half, four-year total period, beginning to end, producing fuel,” he said.

Next on his list is targeting the reintroduction of the railroad that was removed when the mill closed. He sees the reintroduction as a very necessary part of the plan with SynSel.

Tucker told the board he will leave tomorrow to visit Escanaba for meetings with the Escanaba and Lake Superior Railroad about restoring the abandoned stretch of track.

He reported that the owner was “ecstatic about the option” to restore the rail. The goal would be to have it up and running again before fuel delivery is needed.

“We’re meeting with his bankers and his consultants and coming up with the course of action,” Tucker said. “I thought it would be the hardest part of the whole project and it may turn out to be the easiest.”

EDC President Sue Preiss brought up the recent 1.5 million in dredging funding earmarked for the Ontonagon harbor. Her impression was the dredging wouldn’t take place until spring of 2019 and would be a full dredge.

“The money is on the books for us and that comes perfect timing with everything else that is going (on). We have a couple of other businesses that are looking at doing stuff with our dock so hopefully that will all transpire,” she said.

Tucker requested the EDC get confirmation on the timeline and a direct contact as it takes time to coordinate with companies looking to use the EDC dock and he needs commitment.

“It’s hard to schedule ships, it’s hard to schedule pickups and it’s not something you do not knowing whether that harbor is going to be done by then,” said Tucker, “so we need some concrete solid information from them before I can go out and start soliciting to get boats in here and I’d like to do that as soon as possible.”