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IRR approves $2 million for utility to buy wood

Iron Range Resources approved $2 million in grant money Thursday for the Laurentian Energy Authority. The Association of Contract Loggers and Truckers, whom the money will benefit, hopes Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will approve it and match it 2-...

Iron Range Resources approved $2 million in grant money Thursday for the Laurentian Energy Authority.

The Association of Contract Loggers and Truckers, whom the money will benefit, hopes Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will approve it and match it 2-to-1.

The LEA is a public utility that runs biomass boilers on the Iron Range and pays area loggers for wood to fuel the boilers. The move will help keep local loggers in business while dealing with the temporary shutdown of the Ainsworth oriented strand board mills in Cook and Grand Rapids. Loggers who live or work within the Taconite Assistance Area will benefit.

"We're very pleased with the support from Iron Ranges Resources and the participation from the Laurentian Energy Authority," said Scott Dane, executive director of the Associated Contract Loggers and Truckers. He said the structure of the aid package "will assist many loggers who have actually no market right now because of the Ainsworth shutdown and other mill cutbacks."

The association hopes additional money will be awarded to help loggers outside the designated area.

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The amount the grant allows LEA to spend on wood doesn't match what mills would pay, but "it's a very good start," Dane said. "Some of the best news we've had in the last three months."

The biomass market is different from traditional wood and paper markets because it uses lower-quality wood, such as treetops, he said.

It helps loggers who may only sell some of their harvest.

"You have to cut and pay for it all," Dane said. "This will allow them an outlet for other species that may not have been marketable otherwise."

The grant money comes from the Taconite Area Environmental Protection Fund.

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