The Nippon Paper Industries USA mill in Port Angeles is shown on Jan. 25. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Mill official: Nippon has pared down production

PORT ANGELES — Nippon Paper Industries USA has cut operations since late January, Steve Johnson, mill vice president and power manager, said Wednesday.

The paper mill “was curtailed as of January 21, 2017, for market-related conditions,” Johnson said Wednesday in an email.

“The co-generation facility is continuing to run during this period to supply electricity to our customers.

“We will communicate further as information is available and appropriate to share.

“We fully understand the mill’s importance to our employees and the community as a major employer and taxpayer.”

Johnson did not respond with further details in response to emails and telephone requests for an interview.

Andy Grossell of Port Angeles, the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers Local 155 president at the Ediz Hook plant, said this week that most of the 105 hourly workers have been laid off.

About 20 to 30 employees are maintaining the plant and running Nippon’s recently built $90 million-plus biomass co-generation plant, which produces steam for paper products and to generate electricity for sale.

Most of the workers are not at the plant, which “for sure” is not manufacturing paper, Grossell said.

Nippon had two operating paper machines as of December 2015, when one shut down and has remained dormant, Grossell said.

Nippon has been for sale at least since July.

“They’re really not sharing anything with the union at all,” Grossell said Wednesday.

“They haven’t told us anything. They pretty much said, ‘We’ll tell you when we find something out,’ so we’re kind of like, ‘OK.’ ”

The plant has traditionally manufactured telephone-book paper and newsprint for a diminishing market but has been experimenting with new paper grades, Grossell said.

Grossell and his wife, who have three elementary-school-age daughters, are living “very carefully” while he collects unemployment, he said.

The mill was listed in July 2016 as an “acquisition opportunity” by PricewaterhouseCoopers Corporate Finance LLC of British Columbia in a sales flier the company sent to the Port of Port Angeles as a potential buyer.

Port officials said they were not interested.

“In regards to the potential sale of the facility, we have no update at this time,” Johnson said Wednesday in his email.

“If and when this changes, we will communicate the information in an appropriate manner.”

PricewaterhouseCoopers left open the possibility that Nippon might not continue operating as a paper mill if the plant is sold.

“The shareholders are evaluating interest from qualified industry and financial participants to acquire and continue operating the paper mill and/or co-gen facility in order to fully exploit the company’s market opportunities,” PricewaterhouseCoopers said in the flier.

In 2015, Nippon began veering away from directory paper to concentrate more on lightweight specialty and industrial papers and paper towels.

The co-generation plant was built for more than $90 million in 2013, producing renewable energy certified by the California Energy Commission.

It uses biomass wood waste for fuel.

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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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