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Following sale of Verso Duluth mill, talks to sell mill in Wisconsin Rapids continue

WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wisconsin (From news reports) -- Verso announced Monday it completed the sale of its Duluth mill as of Thursday, selling to ST Paper 1.

ST Paper & Tissue is a paper mill company operating in the United States. Its two mills are minority owned tissue mills in Oconto Falls and Isle of Wight, Virginia, that produce bath tissue, paper towels and napkins.

Verso's president and CEO Randy Nebel said the company had been working to find a viable and sustainable alternative for the Duluth mill since Verso idled it in July.

"We are pleased to have found a buyer who plans to operate the Duluth mill in the future, providing local employment opportunities and serving the local business community and residents of the Duluth area," Nebel said.

Verso announced its plans to idle both the Duluth and Wisconsin Rapids mills last June. For the past several months, a group of timber professionals in Wisconsin have been working to create a cooperative with the goal to purchase the Wisconsin Rapids mill and operate the mill as a group of timber professionals, mill workers and community members. The Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association in Rhinelander created the Timber Professionals Cooperative in August as part of that group. The Consolidated Cooperative -- a group that encompasses the timber professionals, mill workers and community members --- was formed in March.

Dennis Schoeneck, the president of the Timber Professionals Cooperative, said the group has continued talking with Verso about a potential sale of the Rapids mill, although there hasn't been a deal on the table yet.

In the meantime, Consolidated Cooperative has been having conversations about funding. Schoeneck said the cooperative has received a lot of calls from people wanting to be part of the project in terms of funding, but the group needs a deal with Verso before they can officially secure the funding, he said.

"We'd be in a good spot if we got a deal," Schoeneck said. "There's great potential."

One potential source of funding could be a loan of federal pandemic relief funds. State Rep. Scott Krug, R-Nekoosa and state Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point recently drafted a bill that proposes $50 million in loans from the federal pandemic relief funds for the cooperative to purchase the mill. The loan would be made by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

As part of the drafted bill, the cooperative would have to secure significant funds from other places before receiving the loan. The State of Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands would also need to participate and help fund the project, as its land holdings are mostly in timber, and the group is concerned about losing the Rapids mill as a market for pulpwood.

Schoeneck said he appreciates the interest and efforts from Krug and Testin, and the loan would be of tremendous help for the cooperative.

"We're not asking for a grant," Schoeneck said. "We would pay it back, and we are confident we will be able to do that."

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