Sale near for mill site?

Published 12:27 pm Saturday, July 31, 2010

FRANKLIN—Terry McAuliffe said his consortium is “the leader” in negotiations to purchase facilities at the shuttered International Paper Co. mill in Franklin.

After campaigning in the western part of the state, McAuliffe also told the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Thursday that IP could announce a sale of the facilities in August.

“We clearly are the leader,” McAuliffe said of his group, the Leaf Clean Energy Co.

It was the former Democratic gubernatorial candidate’s first comments on the Franklin mill since the Shad Planking festivities in Wakefield in April. At that time, McAuliffe said, “They’ve narrowed it down to a couple of bidders, and I’m one of them.”

McAuliffe and a group of investors have reportedly made an offer to purchase some, or all, of the infrastructure at the mill to convert it into a biomass energy plant.

Lisa Perry, the director of the Department of Economic Development in Isle of Wight County, could not be reached for comment Friday. In April, she said her office was working with some, but not all, of the parties interested in the IP facilities.

Perry also said in April that all of the groups pursuing the mill site were from Virginia and were large companies, but declined to identify any of them. She also said between 400 and 500 jobs could be created under various proposals to repurpose the IP facilities.

McAuliffe’s statement took local officials by surprise.

“It’s kind of surprising, especially that he’s saying he is the leader, because we haven’t heard anything from him in quite awhile,” Phillip Bradshaw, chairman of the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors, said Friday. “It seems everything that IP was saying (up to now) was that they were talking to larger businesses.”

Franklin Mayor Jim Councill said McAuliffe’s actions could have an ulterior motive.

“I believe he’s just using it as an opportunity to promote himself,” Councill said Friday. “I don’t think it’s any secret that he’s campaigning for the next election. The more publicity you get, the more your name is out there. He’s promoting jobs, and that’s what he ran on before.”

But Councill added that McAuliffe would be more than welcome in Franklin.

“I hope somebody of his stature does come here,” Councill said. “He’s a money guy and he knows how to get it.”

Leaf Clean Energy Co. was incorporated in the Cayman Islands in 2007. The company’s portfolio includes businesses involved in the production of cellulosic and sugar cane-based ethanol, solar, wind and hydroelectric power, wood-fueled biomass, waste-to-energy gasification and landfill gas-to-methane.

IP officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

Councill said that, to his knowledge, negotiations between IP and parties interested in the mill facilities were continuing.

“International Paper has not made any final decisions,” the mayor said. “They’re doing negotiations and discussions with some groups, but I don’t know who they are and I respect that. We want to be partners to make this a great transition. We don’t want to get in the way of something and cause it to trip and stumble.”