Hunter Dubbin, who is only 7 years old, can’t wait until the Verso paper mill opens again.
He has noticed there are less clouds in the sky since the explosion at the mill.
Hunter, the son of Al and Linda Dubbin, lives on the outskirts of Holdingford. He is one of the four grandchildren of my good neighbors, Richard and Marty Dubbin.
When Hunter was a younger tyke, he would often go with his grandparents to the Sartell Family Dollar store, which is their favorite place to shop. As they crossed the bridge, Hunter would always point out the window to the tall Verso “chimney.” Then he would practically shout with happy amazement, “Grandpa, Grandma, look! It’s the cloud machine!”
Hunter was convinced that is where all the clouds in the deep-blue sky come from — that cloud-making factory near the Dollar Store.
After the Verso explosion last Memorial Day, Hunter once again went with his grandparents to the Dollar Store.
“Grandma, Grandpa, the cloud machine is broken,” he said, disappointed. “There’s no clouds coming out of it.”
Richard and Marty explained there was a bad accident at the cloud factory. It will, they said, be fixed and then the clouds can start once again rising into the sky. But on every trip since then, Hunter looks disappointed.
“Still broke,” he says. “No more clouds.”
Recently, on a trip to Duluth, Hunter saw another paper mill.
“Look!” he exclaimed. “There’s ANOTHER cloud-making machine. This one is working!”
By now, Hunter knows those factories don’t produce “real” clouds, but it doesn’t matter because he wants, in his stubborn imagination, to keep thinking that is where clouds – the kind that make rain – come from. That tall, sky-blue chimney in Sartell. And I can see why Hunter loves to believe that. Many times while driving in the Sartell area, I would see that condensation tower (or whatever it is), and I would be impressed by the beauty of all of that big, pale blue contrasting with the radiant-white cloudy plumes rising from it. It’s a pretty sight.
Hunter is not alone in hoping the cloud-making machine gets fixed and then opens again. We all hope so. That paper mill has always been a giant in Sartell, one of the economic-social foundations of the city – a big employer and a major taxpayer. A shut-down of that plant would be a blow to the city and to the people who depend on that plant for its decent-paying jobs. I know several acquaintances who work there; I worry about what they will do if the plant closes.
Company officials, Sartell city staff and concerned legislators have been issuing cautiously optimistic reports about the likelihood of resuming production at Verso. But damage estimates and other costs seem to hang in the sky like gathering storm clouds – not the radiant-white happy clouds Verso has made for so many years.
We are hoping for the best. We, like Hunter, are looking forward to the day when, as we cross that bridge in Sartell, we can see that baby-blue cloud-making machine in action once again.