14
Aug

Willows fiberboard plant 20 years in the making – Oroville Mercury Register

Chico >> Behind Jerry Uhland, the PowerPoint slide declared, “20 years 7 months 18 days.”

That’s the length of time it’s taken for Uhland of CalAg and other advocates to realize the dream of what rice straw could become.

Uhland and more than 200 others were celebrating the end of that countdown and the soon-to-start construction on a plant in Willows that will turn rice straw into medium-density fiberboard, a construction material.

Owned by subsidiary CalPlant 1 LLC, the plant will be under construction by the end of September if all plans fall into place.

“By a show of hands, how many of you thought this would actually happen,” Uhland asked the audience that filled Sierra Nevada’s Big Room Thursday.

Hands from about half the audience went up.

What may have been significant is that many of them were closely involved in the process, and Uhland pointed out the path to success has been rocky.

Uhland’s litany of names ranged from financiers to attorneys, to growers to government officials.

He had compliments for the county of Glenn and city of Willows. Approval for the plant came in 2000.

Looming largest in the project and causing much of the delay was the financing, amounting to a variety of sources resulting in $315 million in private and government funding.

Construction is expected to get started in September on the $198 million plant, with the first round of production in early 2019. The extra funding goes to interest and reserve on the bonds, and taxes among other costs.

Congressman Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, state Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, and state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, who have all grown rice, each complimented Uhland and CalAg for its dedication to the goal.

“Anyone who can struggle through the permitting process like this deserves some kind of medal,” Nielsen said.

Gallagher noted the jobs will be high-paying ones, welcome in Glenn County, both in construction and plant operation.

“Dealing with rice straw is a big expense for growers,” said LaMalfa, who noted that turning it under and inundating it with water or hauling it away are expensive for growers and not necessarily environmentally friendly.

The fiberboard plant will be the first of its kind in the world, Uhland said. Fiberboard, which is used in housing and furniture construction, is made of wood chips. Additionally, the rice straw fiberboard does not use formaldehyde in production, and is less expensive to make.

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CalAg subsidiary CalPlant 1 LLC owns 273 acres west of Willows where the plant will be built.

The project was approved in October 2000 by the Glenn County Planning Commission, and the next step would be applying for a building permit.

Beyond the environmental boons, there are 87 jobs associated with the plant, along with payroll dollars and $2,085,400 in sales and property taxes, according to financing documents.

Parties finalized a combination of debt and equity financing deal of $315 million in June, including the California Pollution Control Financing Authority, which is issuing bonds for the project. The extra funding goes to interest and reserve on the bonds, taxes among other costs.

Contact reporter Laura Urseny at 896-7756.

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