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Cohasset city council approves plans for new wood manufacturing plant

Published: Mar. 8, 2022 at 10:42 PM CST
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DULUTH, MN - Tuesday evening, Cohasset City Councilors unanimously approved plans for Huber Engineered Woods to build a new OSB manufacturing plant.

OSB is a wood product used in building construction.

The company wants to build the $440 million, 750,000 square foot facility on about 400 acres near Minnesota Power’s Boswell Energy Center in Cohasset.

Huber Engineered Woods estimates the facility will create about 150 jobs.

Local leaders like Tamara Lowney with the Itasca Economic Development Corporation say the project could boost the local economy after the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We think that this is going to help our loggers to sustain through some of the downturns I’ve seen,” said Lowney, “We all know we need these jobs.”

However, tribal and environmental groups showed up at Tuesday night’s council meeting voicing concerns.

“This project comes in here and their proposal, their land is going to basically destroy our forest, the biodiversity that is here,” said Winona LaDuke, Executive Director of Honor the Earth, an organization committed to boosting indigenous voices on environmental issues.

They say the project and the logging it requires will negatively impact their land.

LaDuke argues all of northern Minnesota’s tribal nations oppose the project.

“There are no tribes up here that are in support of this project, I mean you have all of us, our forests are going to be cut down so that a southern corporation can make a buck,” she said.

Those opposed also say they would’ve liked to see a more thorough environmental review.

According to city officials, a project of this size typically requires a thorough Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, to move forward.

An EIS is usually required in cities the size of Cohasset.

The state government waived that requirement for the project.

Instead, the city was only required to complete a less thorough Environmental Assessment Worksheet, or EAW.

Those opposed to the plant are concerned the city does not have the resources to properly conduct an EAW.

“They are not qualified they do not have the ability to manage a project like this or an approval process like this,” said Irene Folstrom with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.

Construction is slated to begin later this year, but Folstrom said legal action is not out of the question.

“We will do whatever we have to do to protect our people. And if that means litigation, and that means litigation,” she said.

With the council’s vote, the project will move forward for the time being, but any pending litigation may stall the project from breaking ground.

Construction should begin later this year.

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