Investors make bid for Franklin mill

Published 10:07 pm Friday, February 12, 2010

FRANKLIN, Va. – A group of investors, including 2009 Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, is attempting to purchase International Paper Co.’s Franklin (Va.) mill and convert it into a wood-fired and biomass power plant.

McAuliffe, who has partnered up with associate Peter O’Keefe to make an offer on the soon-to-be-shuttered plant, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch for a Tuesday story that he wants to create green jobs in the state.

“I am interested in moving [the state] forward in green power … to preserve and create jobs,” McAuliffe told the Times-Dispatch.

If they purchase the plant, the investors could be eligible for tax credits given to companies that create “green” jobs in the state.

A wood fired/biomass power plant uses wood burning boilers to cause steam which run the generators, thus producing electricity that the company sells to a major supplier of electrical power.

Last month, local officials said confidential negotiations involving IP and about 20 renewable energy companies had been taking place and that IP has taken some prospects on-site to tour the facilities at the Franklin mill. International Paper is taking bids until Feb. 26.

John Smolak, president and CEO of Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc., told The Tidewater News for a Jan. 23 story that his organization has been referring prospects to senior management within IP.

“IP has agreed to work with the community and look at proposals that can lend itself to using some of the infrastructure that will be left in place,” Smolak said. “That is a very positive thing for the community, and hopefully it will create some new jobs and new investment.”

Smolak added, “I think through the process of interviews and looking at proposals, IP probably has begun to narrow down those (prospects) that are viable and that would be a good match for the kind of infrastructure that will be remaining there. I don’t know if there’s any guarantee that something is going to come out of it, but certainly it is very positive that we have several entities that have expressed interest in the facilities.”

McAuliffe told the Times-Dispatch that his interest in the mill is purely for investment and not so he can make a repeat run for governor in 2013.

“I would be doing this, governor or no governor,” McAuliffe said. “There’s no political implication.”

IP announced Oct. 22 that it would close the Franklin mill in the spring as part of a strategy of reducing production capacity.

(Charlie Passut is a Staff Writer for the Tidewater News in Franklin, Va., a sister publication of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and Gates County Index.)