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Bill promises relief for loggers impacted by Duluth paper mill closure

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LITTLE FORK, MN -- Taylor Delack is a little less busy these days. The third-generation logger in Little Fork lost about 15 percent of his annual income when Verso shuttered last year. 

"Now with no market, you have market saturation where a lot of guys had to cut balsam but can’t sell it. It's piling up," Delack said.

The closure of the Duluth mill also left Delack and other loggers holding onto a combined 300 timber harvest permits with 10% down already paid.  

"It can range from $1,000 to $100,000 depending on the size of the sale what you pay on the chord per stump," Delack said.

That’s where retired paper mill worker and Representative Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls) says the state can step into help. 

"Look at Duluth and International Falls, there are a lot of loggers caught in the crosshairs that could be moving product both ways," Ecklund said.

He’s backing a bill that would pave the way for refunds on timber harvest permits issued before July of last year.

"If they have 30 percent or more of spruce balsam they will be able to apply with the state for a refund for the deposit they put down for the sale," Ecklund said.

Down payments on permits for spruce and balsam firs add up to over a million dollars, Ecklund said.

Delack says the legislation is a sigh of a relief with no indication Verso will be reopening up anytime soon.

"We’re hoping and crossing our fingers because markets are tight right now."

There’s a companion timber relief bill making its way through the Minnesota Senate. Both versions of the bill would also allow for contract extensions. 

As for Verso, we’re told the city of Duluth and St. Louis County are in the early stages of talks with a potential buyer for the papermill. 

Kevin Jacobsen

News Director

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