Plant facing expensive improvements following fish kill

BOGALUSA, La. — Major, expensive improvements to the Bogalusa paper mill responsible for a massive August fish kill in the Pearl River will begin at the end of the year.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality released a timeline last week detailing when the Temple-Inland mill must begin and complete construction of new infrastructure designed to prevent another fish kill.

The mill’s equipment malfunctioned and spilled an unauthorized by-product known as black liquor into the Pearl, depleting oxygen and killing hundreds of thousands of fish and mussels. The mill usually reuses the black liquor as fuel, but the equipment malfunctioned for an unknown reason and the black liquor was introduced into the mill’s wastewater treatment system instead, said Chris Piehler, an administrator with DEQ’s inspection division.

Piehler tells The Times-Picayune mill officials originally estimated the cost of the improvements at about $10 million, but now anticipate the cost will exceed $15 million.

DEQ plans fines but it cannot give an estimate of the amount until the investigation is over, DEQ spokesman Rodney Mallett said. He said there is no deadline for his department’s investigation to be completed.

However, the final report from a third-party audit team, which the mill must pay for, should be released by Dec. 31, Piehler said. He said the audit will evaluate all of the mill’s equipment, systems and processes, and will make sure the plant is adhering to the terms of its permit. The mill will implement an action plan by the end of January based on the final report, he said.

International Paper Co. reached an agreement with Temple-Inland in September to take over the mill, but the transfer has not yet taken place.

Patty Neuhoff, an International Paper spokeswoman, said that because the company is still waiting on the U.S. Department of Justice to clear its purchase of Temple-Inland, she could not comment on how much International Paper expects to pay, or even why it chose to purchase the smaller company after the fish kill.

She said the deal is expected to close by the end of the year.

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