The Sun Bio Materials project in Clark County has emerged from a period of halting progress with a new profile expected to increase investment, employment and wood consumption.
The increased numbers are $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion to build and equip the plant, 250 to 350 to staff it and 4 million tons to 4.3 million tons of logs and chips to supply it annually. “I think most people thought everything had stopped, but there’s been slow, steady progress,” said Stephen Bell, president of the Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance.
The initial timeline to start construction in late 2017 has drifted back by more than a year. That was pushed by a change in product announced by Sun Bio in January, followed by worries over how tariffs might inflate construction costs.
Plans to produce bleached dissolving pulp used to make rayon were tossed aside in favor of unbleached linerboard to feed the internet mail-order demand for shipping boxes.
As outlined in its revised permit application, the Sun Bio plant will have a daily production capacity of 4,400 machine-dried tons of linerboard. Fed by a softwood pulp mill, two production lines will output heavyweight linerboard and lightweight linerboard.
State officials asked that the plant be listed among the projects exempt from tariff fallout, and with that uncertainty addressed, the Sun Bio development regained traction.
However, the change from bleached dissolving pulp to unbleached linerboard required restarting the approval process for regulatory air and water permits. The absence of a bleaching process from the latest plans eliminates one variable that will reduce water discharge and air emissions, Bell said.
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With the change in product, Sun Bio changed engineers and is interviewing suppliers from Finland, Germany and Austria to equip the plant. The company submitted a 473-page permit application last month to get the regulatory ball rolling again.
“Things seem to be moving along,” said Jesse Smith, engineer in ADEQ’s office of air quality. “I can’t give you a definitive timetable because there is still a lot of work to be done reviewing. As long as there are no unforeseen things that come along, the permitting process could be complete by the end of summer.”
Once the draft copy is submitted for review, it will undergo a combined 45-day commentary period. “But this is a bigger project, and there may be more comments that require more time to respond,” Smith cautioned.
One of the impact considerations for pollutants from the proposed plant lies 92 miles to the west: the 14,460-acre Caney Creek Wilderness Area in the Ouachita National Forest.
The application also takes note of the next three closest Class I areas managed by the U.S. Forest Service: the Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area 200 miles to the northwest, the Mingo Wilderness Area in southeast Missouri and the Hercules Glades Wilderness Area in southwest Missouri.
January is the target for submitting computer models for regulatory review.
“We have filed a revised permit for the new product,” said Ray Dillon, the former Deltic Timber Corp. CEO now consulting for Sun Bio. “Those things are moving through the normal channels. Once we’re through permitting, design engineering will follow with construction starting in late 2019 or early 2020.”