A conservation group is seeking to buy the old Abitibi paper mill site in Steilacoom.
Seattle-based Forterra last week submitted a nearly $200,000 state funding request to study the feasibility of acquiring the mill site, which was shuttered in 2000, and pay for early design work.
One plan calls for removing the remaining mill structures, planting new vegetation, “daylighting” two creeks that now flow through culverts on the property, removing the dam upstream, and moving Chambers Creek Road inland to restore the shoreline to its natural state.
Steilacoom officials said they were surprised by the proposal and have concerns about it because it would generate no tax revenue from Steilacoom’s only industrial site. The mill generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue when it was open.
Forterra is proposing to join with local governments, tribes and other conservation groups to buy the site. They want to improve the health of the Chambers Bay estuary and the surrounding area for fish and fowl.
“Its conservation and cultural significance can’t be overstated,” said Jordan Rash, Forterra’s conservation director.
If secured, the nearly $200,000 allotment would pay for land purchase negotiations, planning and work to secure grants to pay for the project’s next steps, including buying the land.
Forterra, previously known as the Cascade Land Conservancy, estimated the cost to buy the mill property at $3.3 million. The total price tag for the project is pegged at $5.9 million.
The Abitibi plant operated for more than 80 years and at one time made newsprint and was owned by a consortium of newspapers including The News Tribune
Ralston Investments Inc. of Portland purchased the property after a federal bankruptcy judge approved its sale in January 2010. The company, headed by Tim Ralston, became inactive more than a year ago, according to state corporate regulators.
Ralston has been dismantling the site and selling off the parts and scrap metal, Steilacoom Town Administrator Paul Loveless said.
Rash said Forterra has discussed its plans with the owner for several months. Ralston couldn’t be reached for comment.
In late 2010, the Steilacoom Historical School District purchased the upland 13.5 acres of the site for the future expansion of its high school. The price was $1.8 million.
“We’re poised for the future but are not planning to use the land immediately,” Superintendent Bill Fritz said Thursday.
Town officials only became aware of the Forterra proposal in early November.
“None of those particular ideas are in accordance with the town’s comprehensive plan, nor do any of those ideas meet the existing zoning for that property,” Loveless said.
The town’s comprehensive plan, essentially its blueprint for how it will manage future population growth, notes it “shall consider redevelopment of the industrial area that is economically viable and maximizes the benefit to the Town.”
Betsy Lyons, manager of the state program that’s taking the funding requests, invited 50 natural resource projects with a total price tag of $33 million to submit formal requests. They will be prioritized before being sent to state lawmakers for consideration.
It’s anticipated that $10 million in funding will be made available for some of the projects in the coming two-year budget period that starts July 1.Christian Hill: 253-274-7390