Great Plains MDF $850 million plant will be between Three Hills, Trochu

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A fibre board manufacturer told Kneehill County council their major new $850 million mill be located between the communities of Three Hills and Trochu.

The executives of Great Plains MDF appeared before council in person at their Feb. 9 regular meeting.

Brian McLeod, president and chairman of the board, Wayne Wasylciw, vice president of research and development and Gerry Moore, regional director of Alberta, gave council a detailed update on the company’s plan to build a roughly $850 million facility in Kneehill County and beginning in 2021.

McLeod stated Great Plains plans to build the world’s largest medium density fibre board mill in Kneehill County and also the first to use wheat straw instead of wood to make the popular construction material.

The president stated a few years ago some principles of Great Plains got together to talk about the future of the MDF industry and pondered research that confirmed agricultural fibre is in large supply while wood is not.

Further, McLeod stated research found, in some cases, agricultural fibre is superior to wood fibre.

He noted Great Plains’ plan calls for five mills and five value-added centres to accompany them.

He stated the plant in Kneehill County will provide about 380 jobs on-site, 1,000 jobs at the value-added facility plus jobs at the head office while the overall effect of the plant will include 1,900 indirect jobs.

The plant will run 24 hours a day, seven days a week for most of the year and use 800,000 tonnes of wheat straw per year.

McLeod stated Great Plains hasn’t identified a location for the head office yet.

He noted Great Plains is currently researching two other kinds of straw, barley and canola, which may contribute to the mill’s output.

Water will be an important resource at the mill, he noted, as it will require about 1,300 square meters per day.

The company is currently in talks with the Town of Three Hills about water supply and noted the plant won’t require potable water.

As Great Plains intends to manufacture a high quality product, McLeod stated the company intends to build strong relationships with Alberta farmers, municipalities and citizens, stating Great Plains’ door is always open.

The president noted that once all the banking and agreements have been completed by the end of April, funds from the lenders should be available by early June followed by four months of design and engineering with construction to follow by October.

Great Plains has reached a tentative agreement for three quarter sections in Kneehill County, known locally as the “Equity site,” located between Three Hills and Trochu.

The mill will occupy two of the quarter sections with the third set aside for storage.

McLeod confirmed Great Plains has recently reached an agreement with PCL Construction to be the general contractor of the mill’s construction.

While the bulk of the equipment must be sourced from Europe, McLeod stressed the fact Great Plains insists any fabrication that can be done in Canada be done in Canada.

McLeod stated the county should expect to see an increase in truck and rail traffic, with resin needed in MDF manufacture coming in by rail and finished product going out the same way.

Straw will be trucked in and some finished product going out that way too.

Wasylciw stated he’s excited about the opportunities straw presents for MDF manufacture and noted it seems like there is a supply of barley straw available in Kneehill County.

Moore stated he’s been a supporter of agricultural straw for years. He said he’s looking forward to building relationships with local farmers.

Coun. Wade Christie asked how Great Plains deals with foreign material in the straw. Wasylciw responded everything that comes to the plant in a bale gets used, one way or another.

Coun. Faye McGhee asked how Great Plains is going to get the water it needs for the mill. Wasylciw stated it will have to be pumped as trucking couldn’t get the job done.

Reeve Jerry Wittstock asked who the major buyers of the MDF product will be. McLeod answered about 20 per cent will be sold in Canada, 50 per cent in the United States and the rest in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, East Central Alberta Review