by Dennis Dalman
Sandra Cordie, Sartell City Council member, has a deep belief that something good will come out of the tragedy of the Verso paper mill explosion and its subsequent closing.
“We have to be positive and move forward,” she said. “This is an opportunity for some kind of innovation.”
Right after the explosion and fire that crippled the plant, Cordie and others were determined to think positive with a stubborn single-minded goal: to help Verso re-open, to keep the company viable and to save 259 jobs. They put all of their collective energies toward that goal. But, alas, that outcome was not to be.
Still, that same kind of positivity about keeping Verso open, Cordie said, has taken a new direction — to helping unemployed workers and to finding another use for the Verso property — a use that would bring jobs.
“There are many good players working on that goal,” she said. They include city officials, state officials, area economic agencies and Verso management.
“Everyone seems to be on board.”
Cordie described the Verso plant as “a part of who we are.” Its loss, she said, is devastating to so many, even to those who did not work there or who did not personally know people who worked there.
“There were so many skilled workers there and so many dedicated family people,” Cordie said.
In the wake of the plant-closing announcement, Cordie has been thinking “big,” wondering how that riverfront property could be adapted for new uses.
“This may be pie-in-the-sky,” she said, “but I’ve thought of that Verso property maybe being developed into something like St. Paul did along the riverfront.”
Cordie’s vision includes a vast space with recreational access to the river with businesses, a park, an entertainment center, trails and so forth.
“It’s probably pie-in-the-sky,” she said, “but who knows? Sometimes you have to think that way to open up possibilities.”