Brown County admits to multi-million-dollar mistake in Green Bay Packaging project

Construction on a new mill for Green Bay Packaging on December 19, 2018. (Photo credit: WLUK)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WLUK) -- Brown County officials say county engineers made a multi-million-dollar mistake and now taxpayers are going to be paying more to help keep Green Bay Packaging in the area.

Green Bay Packaging announced in June it was investing $500 million in a new paper mill, which would more than double its production compared to its current 71-year-old mill.

In fast-track votes to start construction and keep the company from moving elsewhere, the state agreed to chip in $60 million in tax credits. The city of Green Bay agreed to $23 million in tax assistance and Brown County agreed to $5.3 million for a retention pond and a pipe between the mill and the sewerage district.

Six months later, the county says its engineers were wrong in how they planned to build the storm water management system.

“In the end, piping couldn't be run above ground,” said David Hemery, Brown County Corporation Counsel. “It had to go underground and it had to go deep underground, 18 to 20 feet.”

The extra cost of putting the pipe in ground and adding a lift station is about $6.5 million. Green Bay Packaging has agreed to pay $3.6 million for the lift station if the county covers the remaining $2.9 million.

“Complications happen,” said Patrick Evans, a Brown County Supervisor who is also running to be Green Bay’s next mayor. “It's the county's fault, so I mean what do you say? No, I'm not going to support this?”

Supervisor James Knieszel doesn't blame the county's engineers because he says they were given an unrealistic timeline to price out the work.

“I also believe that if Green Bay Packaging was using its own money to pay for this infrastructure that you better believe they would have done the work necessary to make sure that $5.3 million was an accurate cost estimate before proceeding,” said Kneiszel.

“We had to be fast paced because we're in business and in business you have to make decisions quickly,” said Bryan Hollenbach, Executive Vice President of Green Bay Packaging. “I think everyone did their best work. Once the project gets farther and farther down the road, you learn more things.”

The county board voted 21 to 3 to take the extra funding from the county's general fund for the project. Language was also put into the resolution stating the county will not put any additional money toward the project and if there is any excess sales tax revenue, it will be used to replenish the money taken from the county’s general fund.

The new mill is still expected to be ready in 2021. It is under construction next to the existing mill.

Green Bay Packaging employs 1,100 people in Brown County. It has said it will add as many as 200 new jobs when the new mill is ready.

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