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Woody funds pulp

Posted on August 31, 2000

Harrelson backs non-wood mill in Manitoba

Winnipeg, Manitoba — Actor Woody Harrelson has invested two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in a non-wood pulp mill proposed for Manitoba.

If the project – using straw from oats, flax, wheat and, eventually, hemp to make paper-proceeds, it would be the first of its kind in North America.

“It’s looking really positive right now,” Harrelson said Tuesday outside the Hotel Fort Garry. “This place is great. You’ve got everything you need, man.”

Harrelson, Canadian Alliance party co-president Clayton Manness and businessman Jeff Golfman have formed Prairie Pulp and Paper Co. and conducted several feasibility studies.

“The results are favourable enough that we want to proceed,” Manness said in a telephone interview. “We’ve tried to keep this under wraps for the best part of two years. None of this is a slam-dunk. We’re just on the radar map.”

While much of the money invested was Harrelson’s, the Manitoba government has also contributed. Last year, the province gave Man Agra Capital Inc., Manness’s company, $50,000 to study the feasibility of the project.

In all, government and other supporters have invested $340,000.

Harrelson is best known as the dull-witted bartender on television’s Cheers, but he has since appeared in several big Hollywood films, including The People vs. Larry Flynt and Natural Born Killers.

He was in Winnipeg Tuesday for meetings to set up a slate of officers for Prairie Pulp. Those names have not been released.

Harrelson, an outspoken advocate of hemp cultivation, became interested in the project when the federal government passed a law allowing the growing and harvesting of industrial hemp.

The actor was recently acquitted of a marijuana possession charge laid after he ceremonially planted four hemp seeds to protest a Kentucky state law that considers hemp the same as marijuana.

“His real interest was that trees not be cut down,” said Manness.

“You’ve got the natural stuff on the ground here,” said Harrelson. “This can work. It really seems possible.”

While the mill project may someday use hemp, Manness stresses farmers will need other outlets for their crops.

“We’d only be taking the waste and there’s not enough money for them to dedicate fields just for that,” he said.

Another Manitoba company already uses straw in an innovative manner.

The $142 million Isobord strawboard plant in Elie uses shredded, pressed straw in place of wood chips to make particle board.

While the project proposes to begin producing pulp, Manness said the eventual goal is to make the sort of paper that can be used in fax machines.

The trio plans to spend close to $3 million for the next phase, hiring engineers and beginning the design process. If that goes well, a $400 million to $700 million mill is another two or three years away.

Manness said money would come from financial players in Toronto and New York and from “well heeled individuals” in the environmental community.

Harrelson happened to be staying at the Fort Garry, where the national Liberal caucus is currently meeting.

“I thought maybe the cameras were for me,” he joked after moving through the crowded lobby. “Your Prime Minister is going to be here, right?”

Copyright © 2000, The Toronto Star. All rights reserved.