A former mayor of Iroquois Falls is raising questions about the new Abitibi Banks development project, much to the exasperation of the current mayor who said he is hunting for faults in an unambiguously good news story for the town.
Last week, the Town of Iroquois Falls announced that a deal had been struck with Resolute Forest Products that would see the former mill site sold to Riversedge Developments, which intends to turn it into a new multi-use industrial facility. On top of that, several Resolute-owned properties around the town – such as the golf course – will be transferred to the control of the municipality.
At the public meeting held in Iroquois Falls last week, Mayor Michael Shea said the purchase agreement would be made public.
Now the town’s former mayor, James A. Brown wants to know when that will be.
“In my opinion too many unanswered questions,” wrote Brown in a letter to Mayor Shea. “Our community’s future was determined behind closed doors and without note. Much of this is public property without any public knowledge, opinion or input. I thought we lived in a democratic country,”
In his letter, Brown called for the public release of the Asset Purchase Agreement as well as the minutes of meetings between the municipality, Resolute, and Riversedge.
According to Shea, there is a resolution approving the deal between all three parties for anyone who wants to see it.
“It was done during an open meeting. There’s public disclosure; we’re not hiding anything,” said Shea.
When asked if that meant a member of the public could get a copy of the purchase agreement through town hall, Shea didn’t clearly answer the question. Instead, he criticized Brown, portraying him as someone who has spent decades searching for things to complain about with every decision made by the town council.
“It seems so unappreciative,” said Shea. “We’re sharing wonderful news for Iroquois Falls. There are no hidden agendas here. It’s just fabulous that someone has decided to invest in our town.
“Why can’t some people just appreciate good news instead of searching for something wrong that’s just not there?”
The mayor suggested the resolution passed by council is available to anyone who wants to read it. The The Daily Press left a message at Riversedge’s office in Sault St. Marie asking about the agreement being made public but did not get a response.
One of the issues Brown said he wants clarification on is the restrictions the agreement places on the new Abitibi Banks development when it comes to forestry.
Justus Veldman, the chief executive officer of Riversedge, stated at the public meeting the new site will be prevented from directly competing with Resolute Forest Products – which he said would primarily be the production of newsprint or tissue paper.
Brown said Veldman’s explanation was too vague and wants to know the specifics of the restrictions.
“The comments at the town hall meeting were very ambiguous and vague to say the least,” Brown wrote. “To set the record straight, so what forestry product production can and cannot be used in those buildings going forward? I look forward to specific details.”
Shea said the restrictions on competing with Resolute are reasonable and not a big loss for the development, considering the declining market for newsprint paper.
Brown also wants assurances the town council did its due diligence and researched Veldman and Riversedge before going into business with them.
Brown’s concerns were fuelled by media reports out of Sault St. Marie indicating that the Riversedge redevelopment project to turn the St. Mary’s paper mill into a new tourist attraction called “Destination North” has stalled because some unspecified dispute which is currently being negotiated.