Forks mayor frets 'upheaval' to West End economy by two mill closings
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Interfor's planer mill in Forks, idle since June, will stay closed along with the company's Beaver sawmill. —Photo by Lonnie Archibald/for Peninsula Daily News

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

FORKS — One day after learning that Interfor decided to close its West End operations, officials there were still reeling from the sudden loss of 87 family-wage jobs.

The timber company announced Thursday that it was closing its sawmill in Beaver and planer mill in Forks because of difficult market conditions and a challenging fiber supply.

“I think we're still pretty much just in a state of shock,” Forks Mayor Bryon Monohon said Friday.

“We realized things weren't good, but we certainly were not expecting a total closure at this point in time,” he said.

“A total shutdown was pretty horrible. I don't think there is any way at this point in time to ascertain the impact on the community.”

In an open letter to West End residents, Monohon — one of three candidates for Clallam County commissioner in Tuesday's primary election — characterized the closures as a “major upheaval” of the economy.

Interfor officials said the company plans to increase capacity and optimize operations at the Interfor Pacific mill just west of Port Angeles.

Company spokeswoman Karen Brandt said an undetermined number of workers who were laid off at the two West End mills would be offered positions at the consolidated Port Angeles facility.

The Beaver sawmill had 52 workers, and the Forks planer mill employed 35, Brandt said.

Those mills had been on temporary shutdown since late June.

Such curtailments are fairly common for mills in the summer, Monohon said, adding:

“The word 'final' doesn't really register.”

“I think there's a lot of just total disbelief in the community,” he added.

Monohon said the permanent closure of the mills will affect “everything and everybody.”

Long-term impacts will be felt by area businesses and schools, which rely on enrollment for funding.

“The overall impact on the families themselves, that's priority one,” Monohon said.

“We have to take care of them.”

Interfor officials made the decision to consolidate production in Port Angeles after a strategic review.

“By consolidating operations on the Peninsula, the company believes it can enhance operations in the area and improve its overall financial results,” officials said in a Thursday news release.

The West End mills have been particularly hard hit by difficult market conditions and a challenging fiber supply that is further aggravated by the impacts from log exports, Steve Kroll, Interfor's general manager for Washington operations, has said.

City officials were informed about the closure at about 1 p.m. Thursday.

“They made a cognizant, mature business decision,” Monohon said.

Interfor will honor its $13,000 monthly lease with the city of Forks to operate in the city's business park, Monohon said.

The 10-year lease was renewed in January 2013.

“Our relationship with Interfor has always been very strong,” Monohon said.

“Interfor has been a class act.”

“Our immediate focus will be on assisting people on a day-to-day basis to put food on the table and keep roofs over heads,” Monohon said in his letter.

“We are one region with shared family and community values,” he added.

“We will weather this change.

“It rains a lot in Forks,” the letter said.

“We enjoy the sun when we see it but at the same time rain and storms occur and will not change who we ultimately are and diminish the good that we offer to the world.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 02. 2014 11:05PM
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