While McKinley Paper Co. and the union representing mill workers reached an agreement on a new contract last week, a September timeline for reopening the plant remains in question. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

While McKinley Paper Co. and the union representing mill workers reached an agreement on a new contract last week, a September timeline for reopening the plant remains in question. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

An accord is reached: McKinley Paper Co., local union agree to labor contract

Start-up date of Port Angeles plant is still in question

PORT ANGELES — McKinley Paper Co. has reached agreement with the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers Local 155 on a new labor deal that will be in effect once McKinley opens its Ediz Hook paper mill, company and union officials said Monday.

The question remains when the plant will begin production of containerboard out of 100 percent recycled cardboard.

The mill was owned by Japanese-owned Nippon Paper Industries USA and manufactured paper and newsprint when it closed in March 2017, leaving 150 workers without jobs.

It was purchased by McKinley in April 2017 for $20.6 million, including a biomass cogeneration electric plant that cost Nippon $91 million to build.

Greg Pallesen, president of the Portland, Ore.-based AWPPW, and McKinley General Manager Edward Bortz said Monday that the company and the AWPPW reached an agreement last week when the local union voted for a new contract.

“It’s good for the community up there and the entire region,” Pallesen said.

“It’s similar to the previous agreement,” he added.

Pallesen said 14 employees have been working at the plant under an existing labor agreement to keep it maintained since the closure.

“We anticipate adding [about] 120 employees to current staffing once the mill is up to full operation,” according to McKinley’s shoreline substantial development permit with the city of Port Angeles.

Bortz would not comment Monday on the labor pact beyond confirming that McKinley and the AWPPW had signed an agreement.

Further details on the agreement were unavailable Monday.

McKinley had announced plans to reopen in December 2018 before having to discard the goal.

Then, officials announced last September the mill would reopen this September.

The facility might still open in September, but the window widened last week, according to Bortz.

“Everything is moving along well, and startup is around September or the fourth quarter of this year,” he said last week in a prepared statement.

Bortz said he could not comment further on the company’s plans.

McKinley is based in New Mexico and is owned by the Mexican paper manufacturing company Bio Pappel.

Company officials in New Mexico could not be reached for comment last week, and Bio Pappel officials did not return calls and emails for comment Friday and Monday.

Fran McNair, Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (ORCAA) executive director, said Monday that a September opening is not “viable.”

McNaire said McKinley’s retooling of the plant requires two state of Washington air quality permits that are being processed to ensure that McKinley’s new equipment meets state and federal guidelines.

The state Department of Ecology and ORCAA are processing the permits for the new equipment while a permit for operating the plant remains in effect, McNair said.

“Hopefully, by the end of the year,” the plant can open, McNair said.

“Absolutely, yes, they are going to open the plant,” she added.

McNair said the permit approval will be subject to a 30-day comment period and a public hearing.

McKinley could have waited until after the public comment period when a decision on the hearing would have been made but decided to move forward with it anyway, speeding up the review process, McNair said.

McNair met last with company officials last week to discuss the project.

“We’ve been working really well with them,” she said.

“They’re doing a great deal with recycling, which is terrific.

“In terms of the product they are making and the materials they are using for the product, and recycling, they are also providing jobs for Port Angeles, which is good.”

The company has applied for the state permits and city permits for $600,000 in new equipment.

The Port Angeles Department of Community Development approved a city shoreline development permit in April.

Construction and installation is scheduled to begin in the second half of 2019, according to the shoreline application.

The equipment will include a 57-foot-long roll-handling conveyor.

Pallesen said some of the employees working now at the mill are cogeneration plant operators.

McKinley “will be doing that eventually,” Pallesen said of the electric plant.

“To the best of my knowledge, yes, they will run the entire plant.”

McKinley must still obtain building and public works permits for the project, which had not been submitted as of Monday, planning and public works officials said Monday.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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