EVELETH – The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board unanimously approved on Friday financial measures with significant benefits for the city of Aitkin and the region at large.
The Aitkin action is approval of a $250,000 grant for a lift station and sewer line infrastructure upgrade to support additional housing development in Aitkin.
"I am very pleased to see this project get IRRRB support," said Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin. "The funding represents approximately one-quarter of an infrastructure investment totaling more than $1 million that supports increasing the amount of housing available in our local community."
The IRRRB also unanimously endorsed an $18 million loan to assist in developing a $52.8 million Sweetwater Energy facility at Mountain Iron that will extract industrial biochemicals from northern Minnesota timber resources. Lueck, an IRRRB member, said the operation could be a boon for Minnesota's rural economy by eventually creating around 100 new well-paying jobs on site and benefiting a large number of other workers in related fields throughout the region.
"The plant will be constructed in modules, beginning with the capacity to process about 150 cords of wood stock per day," Lueck said. "Over the next three to five years, the plan calls for expanding to handle up to 550 cords per day. That level of demand for area forestry resources will have a regional impact, helping our logging industry remain viable as we capitalize on biochemical manufacturing technology that displaces the use of both crude oil and agriculture products as raw-material feed stock."
Lueck said flexibility is the key to this technology, which already is being used in northern Europe. The Mountain Iron plant is designed to be able to shift across a broad range of both raw-material inputs and the types of biochemicals produced, unlike traditional paper, press-board or dimensional-lumber plants.
"The range of base chemicals to be produced can be used in a wide variety of applications," Lueck said. "The focus is not on producing one of a kind widget that is vulnerable to economic factors, rather on basic building block biochemicals. The ability to adjust raw-material inputs and the type of biochemicals produced is a major advantage in maintaining stability for this type of facility and generating a predictable demand for our area forestry resources."
In all, $26 million in public financing will be directed toward the Sweetwater project. The IRRRB-backed loan has a 15-year term and an interest rate of 3 percent.