Saint John businessman wants J.D. Irving to move pulp mill

One Saint John businessman says he has the solution to all that ails Saint John: move the pulp mill, which has been located at Reversing Falls since 1946, outside the city limits.

J.D. Irving calls plan from Reversing Falls Restaurant leaseholder Max Kotlowski 'not realistic or feasible'

Max Kotlowski, who began leasing the Reversing Falls Restaurant from the city last year, suggests that J.D. Irving relocate its pulp mill to somewhere outside the city limits. JDI calls that plan "not realistic or feasible." (Elke Semerad / CBC)

A businessman says he has the solution to the Saint John's image problem and stalled population growth.

Max Kotlowski, who began leasing the Reversing Falls Restaurant from the City of Saint John in October 2015, suggests J.D. Irving Ltd. relocate not only its pulp mill, but "the tissue plant, and Ocean Steel" from Reversing Falls to an "appropriate location" outside the city limits.

"The heavy industry with smokestacks needs to come out of our urban area," says Kotlowski.

Irving Pulp & Paper Ltd. has been a prominent feature of Saint John's industrial landscape since 1946. Prior to that, Reversing Falls was the site for various fibre mills starting in the mid-nineteenth century.

That needs to change, according to Kotlowski.

"We have park land to the south, to the east, north, and northeast. It's surrounded by parkland except for the mill," he said.

If the mill were moved, Kotlowski said "other attractions will come here. Historically, this has been Eastern Canada's greatest tourist attraction."

Niagara of the east

Kotlowski envisions the site as Eastern Canada’s answer to Niagara Falls, deserving of “a new master plan [with] walking paths, hotels, restaurants, new attractions, [...] to compete with Niagara Falls.” (Elke Semerad / CBC)
Kotlowski envisions Reversing Falls as eastern Canada's answer to Niagara Falls, deserving of "a new master plan [with] walking paths, hotels, restaurants, new attractions, […] to compete with Niagara Falls."

If the mill were to be relocated, Kotlowski said "other attractions will come here. Historically, this has been eastern Canada's greatest tourist attraction. We already have four cruise lines that are just dying to buy tickets for this."

"Tourism in our town could be a gold mine," he said. "The pulp mill is blocking the entrance to the gold mine. The presence of the pulp mill is ruining the image of the town.

"It's embarrassing when you bring your friend into town and they see a pulp mill in the middle of your city," said Kotlowski.

"Not realistic or feasible"

JDI’s $450 million modernization project, among the largest pulp mill investments in Canada since the 1990s, was scheduled for completion in March 2016. (Connell Smith CBC)
J.D. Irving spokeswoman Mary Keith, however, says the idea of moving the mill is "not realistic or feasible."

"Mills cannot be moved," says Keith.

"This would mean abandoning the hundreds of millions of dollars invested at the current site which has sustained jobs, reduced the environmental footprint of the site and resulted in world first water quality technology on the site."

As for moving the mill outside the city limits, Keith says, "building a new mill on another site would be close to a $1 billion expense."  Additionally, other sites "lack rail links or other critical infrastructure required to operate the mill."

$450 million modernization project underway

Restaurant owner Max Kotlowski thinks the area could be developed into a Niagara-style destination if the pulp mill and other businesses moved to Coleson Cove. 6:21

Kotlowski counters that J.D. Irving is already investing hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades.

"They're about right that it would cost $1 billion to replace to pulp mill, but they're [already] spending between $450 and $500 million on modernization to their equipment," says Kotlowski. "We're just $500 million away from moving the pulp mill."

J.D. Irving's $450 million modernization project, among the largest pulp mill investments in Canada since the 1990s, was scheduled for completion in March 2016.

Kotlowski realizes that to a company making that kind of investment — and to many Saint Johners — the notion of the company pulling up stakes on the West Side is inconceivable

"I'm not expecting that we're going to see any kind of immediate action," says Kotlowski, who has yet to present his ideas to J.D. Irving.

"But I want people to start talking and thinking about this. It's a big idea, and it's going to take time for people to realize that this is what this city needs."

with files from Information Morning Saint john

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