Huber ends plans for proposed Cohasset mill

Huber ends plans for proposed Cohasset mill
Published: Feb. 9, 2023 at 12:32 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 9, 2023 at 6:44 PM CST
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COHASSET, MN. (Northern News Now) - Huber Engineered Wood leaders announced Thursday they have ended their plans to build a nearly $450 million mill in Cohasset.

According to a news release from the company, due to delays, it will no longer develop its new oriented strand board (OSB) facility in Cohasset, MN, as originally intended.

The proposed project was originally announced in June 2021. It was expected to create about 150 jobs for the Cohasset area.

The project was also expected to receive several million dollars from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.

“Due to delays that jeopardize our ability to meet product demand deadlines, we will pursue development of our sixth mill in another state. We will be seeking a new location where we can produce critical home building products that are desired by American home builders and homeowners in a timely manner and consistent with Huber’s environmental and social commitments,” HEW President Brian Carlson said.

“We have worked closely over the last year with many wonderful people across the City of Cohasset and the state of Minnesota. It has been a pleasure to work alongside these talented professionals and we greatly appreciate the strong support provided from a wide range of constituents, including state, county, city and local officials, government and private sector community development groups, and of course the residents of Itasca County. The Huber team looks forward to maintaining a constructive relationship in the state as we will continue to provide exceptional home building products to the citizens of Minnesota,” Carlson continued.

State Senator Justin Eichorn, a republican representing the Grand Rapids area in the State Senate, shared a statement Thursday.

“This BS has got to end. I don’t blame Huber one bit for their decision, but Minnesota cannot continue to kill businesses and jobs time after time after time after time. Democrat leadership and this war on businesses are going to be the death of us if we don’t change how we do things.

“What frustrates me most is that this could have been avoided. Gov. Walz could have tried to save the Huber project with just a little effort, but he didn’t lift a finger. The Leech Lake Band could have come to the table to figure out a solution, but they chose to try to kill the entire project through protracted legal action. As a result, Minnesota loses out on hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs; $450 million in direct investment; billions of dollars in long-term economic impact; and a phenomenal partner that has won international awards for sustainability. Good work, everyone.

“To Huber, we say thank you. Thank you for trying. Thank you for believing in northern Minnesota. Thank you for suffering through our crushing political and regulatory climate as long as you did. You truly were a perfect partner for northern Minnesota. We regret the way this ended but wish you the best.”

State Representative Spencer Igo, a republican representing Wabana Township near Grand Rapids, also released a statement Thursday on the decision.

“Today’s news is a sad ending to what was initially a bipartisan effort to bring more than 150 jobs and significant investment in the communities of northeast Minnesota,” said Igo. “Unfortunately, since signing the bill into law, Governor Walz and his administration have provided zero support for this project as it has come under attack from a small number of activists that would prefer to see this project sacrificed in the name of radical environmentalism instead of letting the Northland thrive. Until Minnesota reforms its regulatory and permitting process, we can expect more businesses to choose not to invest in our state. It’s time to put Minnesota workers and our communities first.”

Igo was the chief author of legislation in 2021 that provided more than $25 million in production incentives to help secure the construction of the 800,000-square-foot wood manufacturing plant in Cohasset.

Igo continued, “Huber and the community would have been a perfect match and it was wise for them to want to invest $450 million into what I believe is the best workforce in the world. It’s a shame that it didn’t work out and I urge Governor Walz and his administration to work with us to make sure future opportunities are not lost to the state’s crushing regulatory processes. Let today’s news be the last example of this—enough is enough and we demand change.”

Congressman Pete Stauber, a republican representing Minnesota’s 8th District, was also disappointed Huber announced they will be moving the proposed mill out of state.

“Huber electing to not continue pursuing an improved wood products facility in Cohasset, Minnesota is an indictment on Minnesota’s anti-jobs approach to development. Our home is turning into California before our very eyes. Investment and jobs move out-of-state thanks to the far-left agenda by our state government and environmentalists weaponizing frivolous lawsuits against us. Minnesota chose to become one of the least friendly places to do business, and it does not have to be this way.

Stauber also says, “whether it be local, state, or federal compliance, it is too hard to permit a project. We are falling behind. Our foreign adversaries, and especially Communist China, are using their natural resources and industrial base to their advantage. Meanwhile, we can’t even build a nickel processing facility next to some of the highest grade ore in the world, or build a wood products mill in the heart of the wood basket.”

Commissioner of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Ida Rukavina said, our agency invested extensive time, energy and resources to bring this project to fruition. We are extremely disappointed that these high-paying, quality jobs will not be coming to our region. Our agency was eagerly looking forward to welcoming Huber to our manufacturing economy, and the positive impacts the new facility could have had on the region’s timber and construction trades industries.”

“Huber Engineered Wood’s decision to forgo the proposed facility in Cohasset is a huge disappointment. The MPCA worked closely with Huber and prioritized their project by committing significant staff resources to develop and implement the most efficient and thorough permitting timeline, including partnering with local leaders to try to resolve outstanding questions from the federal government,” said Commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Katrina Kessler. “The MPCA stands ready to work with the City of Cohasset, Itasca County, IRRRB, and DEED to find new economic opportunities to benefit that community and is committed to efficient and transparent permitting processes to protect the environment and help create good jobs for northern Minnesota.”

“The proposed Huber Engineered Woods facility in Cohasset was an important economic development opportunity – not just for Itasca County and northern Minnesota but for our entire state,” said Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove. “We worked tirelessly across state agencies to coordinate permitting and regulatory decisions and to ensure it was a transparent process. Huber’s departure is a loss for the region, and a loss for the state.”

A spokesperson for Governor Tim Walz’s office also said, “this is devastating news for Cohasset, Itasca County, and Northern Minnesota. The Governor has been a strong supporter of the potential project – creating financial incentives, directing his agencies to collaborate closely with stakeholders, and working to accommodate an expedited timeline – to land the project in Minnesota. He has encouraged all involved to follow the necessary processes and meet timelines. He is deeply disappointed that Huber has chosen not to bring these critical jobs to Minnesota.”

A spokesperson for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe said they understand that this news is a disappointment to many residents of northern Minnesota, the city of Cohasset, and the state of Minnesota, and they share that disappointment.

“We have always been committed to working with local government and businesses to bring jobs and economic opportunities to our communities, while also protecting our natural resources and the environment. In this particular case, we were deeply concerned about the potential impact of the proposed plant on the environment, the attempted shortcuts in the environmental review process and the absence of meaningful tribal consultation at the start of project. We took the necessary legal action to ensure that the Tribe’s rights and interests were protected.”

The spokesperson also states they remain committed to working with all parties, including Huber Engineered Woods, to find mutually beneficial solutions that support economic development and protect the environment.

Earlier this week, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled the proposed mill needed to go through additional environmental reviews after the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe filed a lawsuit..

On Monday, the court ruled in favor of the Band, which said the mill could be too tough on area wetlands and forests.

“The way that I grew up, we really do use the woods, we really honestly do tap the maple trees, we really do pick mushrooms and berries and we fish, so all these things really really affect my life,” said Annie Humphrey, a member of the Leech Lake Band.

The court said an environmental impact statement (EIS) is required based on the elimination of public water wetlands that would result from the mill.

But the court decision was disappointing for many leaders who said the plant would bring 150 new jobs to the area.

“My initial thought is great, once again, the state of Minnesota is giving the Middle Finger to good companies who are trying to create jobs here in Northern Minnesota,” said state Senator Justin Eichorn of Grand Rapids.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.