Hopeful about mill site

Published 8:44 am Friday, December 3, 2010

Isle of Wight County supervisors’ newly signed confidentiality agreement with International Paper Co. is encouraging.

It means that IP is ready to talk details with elected leaders about the repurposing of Franklin’s paper mill, which the Memphis, Tenn.-based company shut down earlier this year.

IP officials have quietly entertained a number of proposals for the mill site, which contains valuable infrastructure and is situated on prime real estate along the Blackwater River in southernmost Isle of Wight County. The campus is especially well suited for several wood-product and renewable-energy processes.

The number of jobs likely to be created from repurposing of the mill site pales in comparison to the number eliminated by IP, which employed some 1,100 people at the paper mill at the time of its closure. The best-case scenarios for a repurposed industrial site contemplate the creation of a few hundred jobs, whether by a single company or a consortium of companies using various pieces of the site’s infrastructure.

Western Tidewater is not in a position to be choosy. The region needs jobs, and the mill site is our quickest chance to create some.

Confidentiality at this stage is necessary to protect the interests of the private companies looking to use the site. Isle of Wight leaders were wise to sign the agreement. If taxpayer-funded incentives become part of the negotiations, county officials will have to make those public prior to approving them.

Elected leaders and economic developers have been largely in the dark about IP’s intentions until now. The confidentiality agreement with Isle of Wight suggests that IP is close to a decision and ready to get it finalized. Good news could come very soon.