Toledo votes to invest in GP mill

(News-Times file photo)

TOLEDO — Members of the Toledo City Council voted 4-2 to invest in the Georgia-Pacific Pulp and Paper Mill’s strategic investment program, or SIP, after considerable discussion over the viability of the program, among other community concerns. 

Through the SIP, GP can receive a 15-year property tax exemption if they invest a certain amount of money in a qualified capital construction or equipment program.

The much-debated investment stems from the mill’s recycling program, which some members of the greater Toledo community said in weeks past could further pollute the environment, while still others said they’re wary of supporting the mill’s SIP effort. 

“They don’t like the fact that we are paying, or are willing to pay yet again, for a multi-billion dollar corporation,” said Toledo City Councilor Betty Kamikawa of residents’ apprehension. “We could be giving away everything. That’s just not a good way to be anymore. It’s never worked in the past to the advantage of the citizens, and I don’t see it working to our advantage in the future.”

Koch Industries, which owns Georgia-Pacific LLC, has enough money to pay for its own business investments, Kamikawa said, and the company never quite answers her questions directly. 

“We never get a direct answer, and we never get the truth,” Kamikawa said. “So just tell us what’s going to happen. We would like to know what’s really going on.”

Despite concerns that the town could lose out on its investment if the mill shut down, some city councilors were in favor of participating in the investment to keep it operational. 

Without Toledo’s participation in the SIP program, Mayor Rod Cross said, the mill could be in danger of closing. That would leave a large number of the people in the community out of work, he said. 

“My friends and neighbors who work at that mill would be out of a job and having to look for a place,” Cross said. “I’ve seen that in other places I’ve lived, and it’s not pretty. I’m trying to balance all of that and that’s why I want to see if we can get to an agreement that everyone can live with.”

The SIP program is directly tied to the innovative new Juno Project, the recycling project that could ensure longevity at the GP mill in Toledo for years to come. The project would recycle material that was unrecyclable previously, allowing the mill to manufacture new paper and packaging products. The effort would divert millions of pounds of material away from landfills. Toledo is partnering with Lincoln County in the SIP program.

Other members of the Toledo City Council, siding with Kamikawa, thought of the multi-jurisdictional SIP program as just another way to squeeze money out of the city. 

“I just cannot bring myself to hold my nose and vote for this,” said Bill Dalbey, Toledo city councilor. “This is extortion. The only reason any of us want to vote for this is because we think it will have a good effect in ensuring those jobs stay in our town, but they [Koch Industries] are going to do what they’re going to do regardless of what we do in terms of this SIP proposal.”

However, with jobs at the mill on the line, some city councilors supported the SIP deal in an effort to keep the mill — and those employed there — in town. 

“I have a hard time looking my friends and neighbors in the eye and saying, ‘I know everything that’s better for you,’” Cross said. “I have a hard time doing that.”

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