Lawmakers laud new bill
New legislation waiting for Gov. Scott Walker’s signature will help reduce costs for a Superior business. Local lawmakers met with representatives from the business, Stella-Jones, at its Superior facility Monday to discuss what the legislators called a “common sense” bill.
“When the business itself comes up with a logical, straightforward solution, we’re ready to make use of that really great advice,” said Rep. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland. “Because they wanted to stay and we wanted them to stay.”
Stella-Jones made the move from Duluth to Superior in 2012. The national company manufactures pressure-treated wood products. The Superior facility grinds railroad ties into chips to be used as biofuel by Minnesota Power. It also sells some of the ties for landscaping, according to facility manager Jeff Brantley. Stella-Jones employs 17 at the Superior facility and about 75 at a facility in Bangor, Wis. where railroad ties are made.
By state law, any business that manufactures something considered to be a waste product has to apply for a state permit to ensure that, if the facility were to close down, it would have enough money for potential clean-up costs. Under current law, businesses have to meet six criteria. The new bill adds a seventh to the list, but businesses just have to meet six of the seven.
“The way the current law is stated, we didn’t fit in,” said Liz Russell, manager of the company’s Bangor facility. So the business was forced to pay an extra $40,000 annually to operate in Wisconsin.
“Because of the nature of Stella-Jones’ business plan, they didn’t meet all of the specific criteria that we have set in state statute, so Stella-Jones came to us and asked us to look at working with the DNR to come up with an alternative criteria that would ensure the financial responsibility of the company in the event they were to close down,” said Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range.
The bill, introduced in September, passed both Senate and Assembly with unanimous, bipartisan support. It isn’t a loophole, nor does it exempt the company from state regulations.
“This bill does not create an exception for Stella-Jones, it simply makes Stella-Jones equal with any other company when they apply for these solid waste permits,” said Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar. Other state businesses could also make use of the expanded criteria, he said.
Russell thanked bill sponsors Bewley, Jauch and Milroy for their help.
“It was very refreshing to have government officials that were willing to come and work together with us for a logical approach to a pretty easy solution,” Russell said. “It definitely shows that indeed Wisconsin’s economy and business is important to the DNR and the legislature.”
The speed at which the bill made it through the legislature was impressive, Bewley said.
“Typically, these sorts of things can take multiple attempts and we were able to draft and put forward a very simple common sense bill that received unanimous bipartisan support,” she said. “And that in fact is an accomplishment we can all be proud of.”