Mill closures impact Washington rural communites


The closure of sawmills and paper mills is always impactful to the small, often rural, communities in which many of them are located. As we saw with the final closure two years ago of the Harbor Paper mill in Grays Harbor County, Wash., the effect on people’s jobs and livelihoods is deep and wide-ranging.

The closures put at least a temporary halt to what was for many families generations of employment, going back several decades. The closures also create a large hole in rural economies where the unemployment rate is already very high and the promise of new jobs and industries is low.

This was on display this week with the announcement that the last lumber mill on the West End of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula will close next month. Meanwhile, just one day later, the last log was cut at the Shelton, Wash., mill owned by Simpson Lumber Co., which has operated in Shelton for 90 years.

According to the Olympian, the mill’s last log was “processed by double-cut sawyer Rick Glaser, who spent 44 years working for Simpson.”

Glaser joined the company at 18 and leaves it as a 62-year-old man.

The 18-foot Douglas fir log took all of five minutes to cut, he said.

“It was sad and real emotional,” said Glaser, who added that his daughter, Amanda, also works at Simpson, and watched her father complete his job one last time.

Glaser plans to retire, but his daughter, 34, will have to find work, he said.

Glaser and his daughter are among about 270 employees who lost their jobs after Simpson announced that it had sold its waterfront mill and one in Dayton, near Shelton, to Sierra Pacific Industries, a wood products company based in Northern California.

In Shelton, the closure is not the end of the timber business. Timber will continue to be processed locally, and Sierra Pacific and Simpson will continue to have a strong presence in the area.

And there is hope for affected workers. Sierra Pacific plans to build “at least one new, state-of-the-art sawmill and lumber planing operation on the Shelton waterfront site,” the news release states.

The new mill is expected to be operational in 2017.

Prior to that, jobs will be created to deconstruct the mill site and build the new one. The new mill is expected to need 150 to 200 employees, said Lisa Perry, a spokeswoman for Sierra Pacific. She said the former Simpson employees are not guaranteed employment at the new mill — they’ll be asked to apply like everyone else, she said — but “experienced mill workers are an asset.”

Simpson will continue to operate its door company in McCleary, which employs 188, and will continue to own its railroad properties, tracks, tidelands and other properties in the Shelton waterfront area. The company is considering options to re-purpose those facilities.

Sierra is buying saw-milling equipment in downtown Shelton, at the nearby Johns Prairie complex and in Dayton.

Over on the North Olympic Peninsula, the upcoming closure of the Allen Logging Co. mill, as well as other recent mill closures, are causing one local leader to bemoan the lack of state timber harvest.

The 247 million board feet of Olympic-region timber that was supposed to be sold from 2004 to 2014 but wasn’t sold — “arrearage” in forestry parlance — would have been enough to keep the shuttered Interfor sawmill in Beaver and planer mill in Forks running for four years and the idled Green Creek mill in Port Angeles running for about 12 years, said Rod Fleck, Forks city attorney and planner.

Fleck noted that just one year’s arrearage would have sustained Allen Logging south of Forks for several years.

State Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark said his Department of Natural Resources is hamstrung in harvesting and selling the timber by staff shortages, legal decisions and lawsuits from environmental groups. He’s working with local and academic leaders to try to ease the backlog.

To address arrearage problem, Goldmark has assembled a two-member subcommittee of the six-member state Board of Natural Resources to make recommendations to the full board.

The subcommittee is composed of Clallam County Commissioner Jim McEntire and Thomas DeLuca, University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences director.

“We’re at work trying to come up with a framework and policy decisions that the board is going to have to take up,” McEntire said.

“I’m going to push for addressing the arrearage and working down the arrearage to zero as soon as feasible, and then working with Tom and the department, devising a methodology for preventing future arrearages.”

McEntire said the issue “can’t be taken lightly,” especially in light of the recent mill closures.

He said he hopes to schedule an arrearage workshop at the August meeting of the Board of Natural Resources in Olympia.