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ST Paper anticipates operations to begin early 2023

DULUTH, Minn. (From news reports) -- The Federal Kumano arrived to Duluth's harbor Monday, carrying with it the final major component to allow installation of a newly constructed paper machine at ST Paper's mill.

The Yankee dryer is a specialized pressure vessel used in the production of tissue paper to remove excess moisture from pulp that is about to be converted to paper, said ST Paper mill manager Gary Wargin.

The Federal Kumano is docked at the Clure Public Marine Terminal (Berth 8), which is owned by the Duluth Seaway Port Authority . It is the port's only general cargo terminal, serving as the region's multimodal logistics hub and heavy-lift/breakbulk cargo-handling center.

Construction of a specialized crane is underway at the Port Authority's Clure Public Marine Terminal to lift the 250,000-pound piece of equipment off the ship onto the ground. It must pass through customs before the three-hour heavy haul transport travels through the city to its destination at 100 N. Central Ave. The crane will then be disassembled and brought in through a specialized platform to then install the equipment at the mill, Wargin said.

The plant was constructed in 1987, designed to make magazine and advertising inserts. After the market for magazine and advertising paper production dried up, its previous occupant, Verso Corp ., ceased operations July 5, 2020. The mill's closure came with the loss of 225 employees, in addition to the sizable hit taken by its utility providers.

"The demand for paper has dramatically changed for magazine paper/standard use. The industry has completely reorganized," said Bill Broydrick, spokesperson for ST Paper. "It's a whole different kind of machinery and a whole different kind of paper. We will produce giant rolls of tissue paper that are then sold to finishers. There are a large number of situations like the one in Duluth. This marks the third time ST Paper has gone into a plant and refurbished it and converted it to produce tissue paper."

ST Paper is a leading national provider of tissue paper sold for use outside the home, such as restaurants and rest areas, and has other tissue mills in Oconto Falls, Wisconsin, and Franklin, Virginia.

ST Paper purchased the mill May 13, 2021, with plans to begin producing tissue paper, Wargin said. Over the last year, up to 75 union tradespeople have worked to construct the new machine within the mill, which will produce bath tissue, napkin and towel grades of paper.

Broydrick added: "We are confident that in the first quarter of 2023, we will be producing tissue paper. The demand is high. The price is firm. We are confident that our business in Duluth will be a success. Tissue paper is always going to have a robust market because it is always something mankind will need, to try and put it delicately."

Once operating there will be at least 80 employees, in addition to local logistics, parts and repair service providers, Wargin said.

"There is room for expansion into the tissue market within the current complex," Wargin said. "It's been quite a cooperative effort between the city of Duluth and the state of Minnesota to get this accomplished. We're extremely excited to get people back here and reemployed at the mill. It's exciting day for everyone here and the people of Duluth."

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