Excerpt from “A new era for Pontiac” by Cindy Sorgea, originally published in Brownfield Renewal Magazine, August 2010
When the Smurfit-Stone paper mill closed in November 2008 in Portage-du-Fort, Quebec, the economic impact was devastating. The closing of the four-decade old mill left some 500 area residents unemployed, sending the region’s unemployment rate skyrocketing to more than 20 percent.
Today, the future is much brighter in Portage-du-Fort as the abandoned mill no longer sits vacant. In fact, in less than two years since closing its doors, the site is occupied and has become the cornerstone for the area’s revitalization. Plans already are underway to make it the regional industrial park for the entire Pontiac region with the goal of utilizing energy technologies, alternative fuel sources and the recycling of varied waste streams as key development initiatives.
In January 2010, the site in Portage-du-Fort was purchased by Green Investment Group, Inc. (GIGI), a company based in Alton, Ill. that purchases and revitalizes Brownfield sites throughout North America. Work commenced immediately, as did plans for what the site would become. Talks began right away with governmental and provincial officials, including Lawrence Cannon, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs; Remi Bertrand, Executive Director of MRC Pontiac and Daniel R. Labine, Strategic Development Officer at MRC Pontiac. All parties agreed to collaborate on plans to create a development that would be most complementary to the surrounding communities.
“Pontiac was hit hard during the last economic downfall and the closing of the Smurfit-Stone plant meant the end of industrial activity. So, when discussions and work began with Raymond Stillwell and his group, I was more than happy to offer my full collaboration,” said Lawrence Cannon, member of Parliament for Pontiac. “Today, we are witnessing the rebirth of the Portage-du-Fort plant with a new approach: one of diversification and novelty that will contribute to the local economy in a way never before achieved. We are on our way to becoming leaders in the Outaouais.”
Both the site and the future of Portage-du-Fort are showing signs of change. Trebio, the first company to set up operations at the site of the former mill, is a project that will necessitate an overall investment of $19 million. Trebio specializes in the manufacturing of energy wood pellets to supply to the residential, commercial, industrial and institutional markets in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. The plant will have an annual production capacity of 130,000 tons. It’s anticipated that Trebio will provide nearly 150 jobs, 60 of which will be direct positions in the first year.
Other prospective industries being considered for the site include MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) to energy conversion, coal gasification, septage to fertilizer conversion, pre-fabricated housing, dry construction waste recycling, as well as other projects that should materialize in the very near future.