The city of Cohasset will seek more information before voting on the environmental review for a proposed wood factory after concerns were raised about the review’s adequacy.
In a brief city council meeting Tuesday evening, Mayor Greg Hagy again delayed the vote on an environmental assessment worksheet, or EAW, for Huber Engineered Woods’ $400 million oriented strand board, or OSB, plant. The council will consider whether to accept EAW or order a more-stringent environmental impact statement, or EIS, on March 8, 2022. The vote had been scheduled for Tuesday evening after previous postponements and extensions.
“The city has determined that there is additional information that could be attained that would provide information necessary for the city to make a determination on the potential environmental impacts of the proposed project,” Hagy said during the meeting, according to a live stream from Itasca Community Television.
Hagy said the city is specifically seeking information on the “long-term availability of wood supply in the area and the effect of the project-related activities on the environment in the area.”
The move comes after an environmental group, an Indigenous band, a competitor and two Bemidji-area business groups spoke out on the project's EAW.
The West Fraser OSB plant in Solway, near Bemidji, had raised concerns that there wouldn’t be enough aspen in the state to support both plants.
The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe said the EAW failed to address potential impacts on its reservation, which is only 1 mile to the west of the project site, and its ceded territory.
And the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy said that despite the project’s 460,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, which includes carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, there was no discussion of climate change.
The News Tribune reported last week that if built, the project would be the 12th-largest emitter in the state.
The 800,000 square-foot facility is planned for 400 acres next to Minnesota Power’s Boswell Energy Center and would bring in 158 jobs to the region. A project of that size would normally trigger an EIS, but the Minnesota Legislature also passed a law that specifically exempts the project from such a study.
In June, Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Commissioner Mark Phillips told MinnPost that Minnesota was competing with other states for the plant and an EIS would take a year, which was too long for the company, while an EAW takes about six months.
On Tuesday evening, Hagy said Huber, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, had agreed to the city’s postponement of a decision on the environmental review until March.
If the city revises its EAW with new information, a new 30-day comment period would begin.