By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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Cathy Price, Nippon's human resources manager, said Norlund, a Sequim resident, gave notice Wednesday he was leaving the mill at the base of Ediz Hook after 12 years as a company executive and was at his office for a short time Thursday before leaving for good.
“It was a shock for all of us,” Price said midday Thursday.
“It's been a very emotional morning for us.
“I am happy for him and his family, but we are not happy for ourselves.”
Norlund did not return calls Thursday for comment.
Price said Norlund was hired to a management position at Catalyst Paper in Port Alberni, Canada.
Catalyst has 315 employees compared with Nippon's 189 full-time employees, including 122 union workers.
Norlund was resident mill manager at Nippon when he was promoted to executive vice president in 2013 and held both positions until his departure.
Norlund's departure had nothing to do with recent mechanical difficulties experienced by Nippon's newly expanded cogeneration plant, Price said.
“Absolutely not,” she said.
Nor was Norlund asked to resign, Price said.
“Absolutely not,” she repeated.
Price said Norlund had not been looking for another job when he resigned.
“Someone reached out for him and made him an offer to return to Canada,” Price said.
Norlund, in his late 50s, and his wife, Susan, have three grown daughters, two of whom live in Canada.
“They always knew they wanted to retire there, and they took the opportunity,” Price said.
The mill produces telephone-book paper and newsprint for local newspapers including the Peninsula Daily News and three area weeklies: the Sequim Gazette, Forks Forum and Port Townsend & Jefferson County Leader.
Norlund resigned in the wake of Nippon's shutdown from Feb. 23 until Sunday so repairs could be made on the company's newly expanded biomass-fueled cogeneration plant, which generates electricity for sale and produces steam for the mill.
Scheduled maintenance also was moved ahead of schedule.
Norlund was a major force behind the cogeneration project, which survived numerous pollution-related legal challenges and was dedicated in an elaborate ceremony in November that was attended by corporate officials from Tokyo, representing Nippon Paper Group, which owns the Port Angeles plant.
The cost of the cogeneration project also ballooned from $71 million to a final price tag of $85 million.
After four months of operation, the cogeneration plant was close to operating at full 20-megawatt capacity as of Thursday afternoon, Darrel Reetz, vice president of Association of Pulp & Paper Workers Local 155, said Thursday.
Norlund has said the cogeneration plant is key to Nippon's survival.
Said Reetz: “I know Harold put major effort into getting the Japanese to go forward on the co-gen project.
“He is a very savvy manager.
“I wish him and his family well.”
Union workers approved a six-year contract in August 2013 after staging a five-day walkout, complete with pickets, in March 2013.
Price, who would not divulge Norlund's salary at Nippon, said Thursday she could not say whether Norlund will be replaced.
“Obviously, this took us all by surprise, so we have appointed internal management to manage the operations in the interim until we have a chance to sit back and decide how to proceed from here,” Price said.
Nippon said in a statement that “the company is grateful for Harold's many outstanding contributions during his career at NPIUSA, and his presence will be greatly missed.”
A second North Olympic Peninsula biomass expansion, which is planned by Port Townsend Paper Corp., has been delayed.
The $55 million project, which is expected to generate 24 megawatts of renewable energy, is on hold because of the falling price of competing natural gas, Kevin Scott, the company's environmental director, said last month.
Both the Port Townsend facility and the Nippon biomass expansion have been opposed by environmental groups who say the facilities will increase pollution, especially of ultrafine particles that can lodge in the lungs.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at email@example.com.