April 19, 1995 in Nation/World

Sawmill Lays Off 30 Employees In Bonners Ferry Owner Cites Competition From Canadian Mills

Eric Torbenson Staff writer

Crown Pacific Inland Co. will lay off 30 of its Bonners Ferry sawmill workers because of weak lumber prices, the company said Tuesday.

The layoffs are the latest in a wave of mill closures in North Idaho. Competition from Canadian sawmills has depressed lumber prices to the point that Inland Northwest mill operators say they cannot compete.

Louisiana Pacific’s mill in Boundary County has been working at a fraction of its capacity since about the first of the year. No one at Louisiana Pacific could be reached for comment Tuesday. Rudy Hernandez of the Bonners Ferry Job Service said employees at the mill come in only once every five days or so.

Louisiana Pacific recently laid off workers at its Chilco mill for several weeks, also because of market conditions, according to reports.

“It’s been really ugly,” said Hernandez, the office manager for the small Job Service office. “The lumber prices have really hurt us.”

Fletcher Chamberlin, spokesman for Crown Pacific Ltd., said the poor market conditions caused the Bonners Ferry layoffs. The company, parent of Crown Pacific Inland, has no idea when the workers will return.

Unemployment will shoot up in Boundary County if the Crown Pacific workers stay out of work for more than four weeks, Hernandez said.

Crown Pacific Inland employs 160 at its Bonners Ferry sawmill, and 113 more workers at its mill in Colburn, Idaho. No workers were laid off in Colburn, Chamberlin said.

Get used to seeing the layoffs and the mill shutdowns, said Dick Bennett, owner of Bennett Lumber, Elk City, and spokesman for timber producers. Canadians have increased their share of the U.S. lumber market to 40 percent from 28 percent just last year, he said.

Canadian lumber subsidies have made the market a shambles, he said, predicting further declines at Inland Northwest mills.

“There’s just no way they can survive with the market the way it is,” he said.

No relief is in sight.

Trade negotiations over the lumber dispute between the United States and Canada are stalled.

A trade board made up of two Canadians and one American ruled last year that a tariff on Canadian lumber imports was illegal. Timber producers filed suit against the legality of the trade pact that created the unbalanced board, but later dropped the suit with the assurance that negotiations would continue.

While depressed prices hurt sawmills, some consumers benefit.

“I think home builders are enjoying the cheap lumber right now,” Bennett said in a telephone interview from Palm Springs, where he has a second home. “I think they have more clout than we do, maybe.”

If demand for lumber increases, the market may revive itself and allow mills to operate. But until issues are resolved between U.S. and Canadian mills, Inland Northwest millworkers will suffer, Bennett said.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email