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Evers Plan Would Loan Park Falls, Rapids Groups Millions to Buy and Restart Paper Mills

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Ben Meyer/WXPR
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Gov. Tony Evers wants to get idle paper mills in Park Falls and Wisconsin Rapids running again.

He’s included millions of dollars in loans as part of a $1 billion special spending package to do that.

The paper mill in Park Falls has only been operational for a few months since first shutting down in 2019, and last June, Verso announced it was stopping production at its Wisconsin Rapids mill.

Those moves came at the cost of hundreds of jobs.

But on Wednesday, Evers announced he will call the legislature into special session to consider spending $1 billion to help the state’s economic recovery. The plan would also expand Medicaid in Wisconsin, something that has been rejected by Republicans in the past.

“We’re not only going to expand access to healthcare for tens of thousands of people across our state, we’re going to use that $1 billion we’d save and put it toward making sure our economy can bounce back and recover from this pandemic,” Evers said in a press release.

Evers proposes loaning $15 million to a local ownership cooperative to buy the Park Falls mill. A loan of $50 million would go to the Wisconsin Rapids cooperative group.

Park Falls Mayor Michael Bablick said the loans are critical for the economic health of the region.

“Both of these mills, and I’ll definitely admit that the Rapids mill is has much more volume than Park Falls, if they don’t come back up, you’re going to see a wave of bankruptcies in the logging industry like we’ve never seen before,” Bablick said. “It’s going to cause some serious, serious economic hardships in northern Wisconsin.”

Bablick points out the closed mills have had a direct impact on countless loggers who supply pulpwood.

He feels Park Falls’ advocacy for itself with state and federal politicians has paid off.

“There’s been a lot of communication over these couple of years with them. I think the idea and the issue has stayed in their minds. When this opportunity arose, I think that those conversations had a meaningful impact with why this was included in the Governor’s proposal,” he said.

The special session will be next Tuesday.

Republicans have swiftly rejected taking action in several other special sessions called by Evers since he was elected, but Bablick is hopeful for a different result.

“If Republicans and Democrats can’t come together on, to me, pretty much the most basic of questions—are we going to let the timber industry in northern Wisconsin fail?—and I don’t say that lightly. I’m talking serious economic issues…and if Democrats and Republicans can’t come together on that basic question, then I think politics in this state are even worse than I thought,” he said.

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