Last November, the BitterRoot Economic Development District landed a $20,000 grant from the Montana Department of Commerce’s Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund to identify industries and businesses that would be suited to set up shop at the former Smurfit-Stone pulp mill near Frenchtown, which closed in early 2010. The Illinois-based Green Investment Group, which acquired the mill for about $19 million in May 2011 with plans to scrap and redevelop it, planned to chip in another $20,000 for the study.
But this week, BREDD is sending the grant money back to the state. GIGI Vice President Mark Spizzo wrote in a Sept. 7 email to BREDD’s director that the company has “chosen not to take the traditional industry-specific path...Please go ahead and return the money to the grantor. We won’t be engaged in that type of feasibility study.”
Instead, Spizzo wrote, GIGI has “funded a group to look at development of the site from a different viewpoint.” He also mentioned discussions with “several other large entities interested in marketing the site worldwide.”
The Independent asked Spizzo to elaborate on why GIGI is forgoing the study. “As a private company,” he said in a written statement, “we respectfully ask that we are given the opportunity to internally make decisions regarding the site’s redevelopment strategy and formalize a plan with our own consultants who share collectively in our interest and knowledge of the site’s most marketable assets.”
BREDD Director Marcy Allen declined to comment, other than to say she had hoped the grant would hasten the mill’s redevelopment. Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss says the county will continue to work with the Missoula Economic Partnership to shop the 3,200-acre industrial site, northwest of Missoula, to potential businesses. “There continues to be interest from companies looking to relocate here and reuse the site in new business ventures,” she says.
The Green Investment Group owns seven former Smurfit-Stone mills in the U.S. and Canada. The Frenchtown site is its largest. The company’s been more successful recruiting new businesses to its properties in Canada.
The Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of determining whether the Frenchtown mill, which for a half-century discharged papermaking chemicals into the Clark Fork River and adjacent wastewater ponds, should be designated a federal Superfund site.