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McAuliffe: IP finalist

WAKEFIELD — Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe said Wednesday his consortium is one of “a couple” of final bidders to purchase facilities at the International Paper Co. mill in Franklin.

“They’ve narrowed it down to a couple of bidders, and I’m one of them,” McAuliffe said at the Shad Planking festivities in Wakefield. “We’ll see what happens. The good news is that the paper mill will stay in existence as a new type of energy entity.”

McAuliffe and a group of investors including Peter O’Keefe, a longtime political ally, reportedly have made an offer to purchase some or all of the infrastructure at the mill to convert it into a biomass energy power plant.

O’Keefe serves as the non-executive director for Leaf Clean Energy Co., which was incorporated in the Cayman Islands in 2007. According to the Web site for Leaf Clean Energy, the company’s portfolio includes businesses involved in the production of cellulosic and sugar cane-based ethanol, solar, wind and hydroelectric power, wood-fueled biomass, waste-to-energy gasification and landfill gas-to-methane.

“If we get it, if someone else gets it, the good news is (the mill) has got a future,” McAuliffe said. “When I got involved, it created a lot of excitement and I think it encouraged a lot of people to bid. If I get it, I’ll be excited. But if I don’t, I’ll know that at least jobs are going to be retained.”

McAuliffe said he didn’t know who the other bidders were, but added, “We have had to expand our bid to bring in some other elements, to incorporate other parts of the paper mill, and I know the other side has done the same thing. There’s going to be a lot of new, green, alternative energy activities there, which is great.”

McAuliffe declined to reveal additional details about the bidding process, citing a confidentiality agreement with IP, but he predicted that the Memphis-based company would make a decision over which assets to sell to which bidder very soon.

“I think that by the end of April, (the final bidders) pretty much have to have their next bids in, and then (IP) will make a decision shortly thereafter,” McAuliffe said.

IP has not disclosed how many unsolicited proposals for possible reuse of the plant were received before a Feb. 26 deadline, but local elected and economic development officials have said that as many as 15 renewable energy companies have negotiated with the paper maker. IP has given tours of the Franklin mill to many of them.

“The good news is that this is going to be an ongoing concern,” McAuliffe said. “IP has historically just shuttered their (closed) plants. This one will be a new model for them by keeping it open.”