In 2020, I decided to run for elected office to represent my community in the Minnesota House. I was tired of seeing the communities of northern Minnesota left behind as industries that once drove our local economy were abandoned by the political class in St. Paul.
During my first term in office, I made good on this promise by authoring legislation that provided important incentives needed to bring more than 150 new jobs to Itasca County. The jobs will come via the construction of a brand-new, $440 million oriented-strand board mill in Cohasset.
Unfortunately, as the construction and environmental permitting process is ending, the project and Huber Engineered Woods are facing renewed opposition from some in our community ("Giant mill won't be a good neighbor up north," Opinion Exchange, Feb. 14).
A common complaint is that the new facility will harvest more wood than Minnesota forests can sustainably provide.
The facility expects to use aspen for about 75% of its wood supply. An updated environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) shows that the facility is expected to consume about 400,000 cords per year. Data from the University of Minnesota's forestry department assesses that at least 1 million cords of aspen could be harvested annually without causing significant environmental effects. This data shows that the plant does not pose a threat to northern Minnesota's forests.
Others have brought concerns about the plant's greenhouse gas emissions. But first, most of the energy for the facility comes from wood. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidance specifies that wood fuels are considered "carbon neutral" and thus are not counted as net emissions.
Second, carbon in the wood used in the finished products that the plant produces is considered "sequestered." Taken together, this results in a net carbon reduction benefit to the state and the environment.
While the wood that is harvested will be sequestered, thousands of new trees will be planted that are scientifically proven to take more carbon out of our atmosphere than old forests. This new growth will promote healthy and vibrant ecosystems that will support all of us.
Finally, concerns have been raised about the plant's impact on water and surrounding wetlands. The project is mitigating wetland impacts at a 1.5-1 ratio.
As you can see, many of the concerns raised by those opposing the project can be easily invalidated using scientific data from the project's EAW.
I encourage community members to rally around this project as a respected company makes a private investment in the hardworking men and women of northern Minnesota. These good-paying jobs will provide families in our area with the resources they need to live comfortable lives while making sure that high-quality wood products are available to build the homes of tomorrow.
Together we can strengthen the Northland and bring our best days to reality.
Spencer Igo, R-Grand Rapids, is a member of the Minnesota House.