L-P Mill’s Relocation An Option 60 Laid Off In Sandpoint; Works May Be Headed South
The Louisiana-Pacific Corp. lumber mill here and about 60 high-paying jobs could be headed south to Chilco.
Rumors about closing the Sandpoint mill have circulated for months, and L-P officials confirmed this week that the mill is closed and moving the plant is an option.
“It’s certainly a possibility. It’s been discussed, but no decision has been made,” said Jim Beldin, a spokesman for L-P’s Northwest Division.
“It obviously makes more sense to process the wood at one location and would be a cost saving factor,” he said. “It could happen, but I don’t know at this point if it will.”
Ann Kritzeck, director of Sandpoint’s economic development agency, said she’s heard rumblings about the mill moving, but hopes those rumors are wrong.
“There has been a mill at that site for at least 40 years,” she said. “It’s part of our history. If we lose it, it’s going to signal an end to the timber industry here as we know it.”
The Chilco mill supplies the Sandpoint plant with rough-cut lumber, where it is finished into studs.
The Sandpoint mill is now temporarily shut down as is L-P’s Chilco plant. That’s because of low lumber prices, a limited supply of logs, mud-clogged logging roads, and imports of Canadian lumber, Beldin said.
It’s unclear how long the plants will remain down. In the meantime, Beldin said any talk of moving the Sandpoint mill is on hold.
“At the moment we are more concerned about seeing lumber markets and prices return. Once that happens we will be able to explore those (moving) options further.”
Workers in Sandpoint were officially laid off last Wednesday. They were told the Chilco plant won’t start supplying them timber until three months’ worth of logs are stored in the Chilco yard.
It takes about 80 truckloads of logs a day to keep two shifts working at the mill. Chilco is now taking in only 15 loads of logs a day.
A few mill workers here are worried they may never return to the Sandpoint plant.
“I don’t think they will go back into operation up here,” said a six-year veteran at the mill. He did not want his name used, fearing it could hurt his chances of being called back to work for L-P.
Several employees said salaried workers at the mill were told to put together resumes.
That’s a sign of an impending move, they say, and that there won’t be enough jobs at Chilco for the Sandpoint plant administrators.
Beldin expects the Sandpoint plant to reopen, but only when market prices increase and more timber becomes available.
“There are many factors that are not boding well for us right now,” Beldin said. “Our industry is in a real fight for its life.”
Last summer L-P closed its Priest River mill and moved equipment and many of its 80 to 100 employees to Chilco. In October, L-P also shut down its Post Falls mill, leaving about 100 workers jobless.
The only L-P mills that remain in the Panhandle are at Chilco, Sandpoint and Moyie Springs.
“I have no idea what L-P’s plans might be, but what we are seeing with the moves, consolidations and closures is a readjusting of the timber industry,” said Joe Hinson of the Intermountain Forest Industry Association.
“It’s a time of extreme uncertainty and it’s not a comfortable place for people who work in sawmills,” he said.
Hinson said industry analysts predicted the limited supply of timber would start taking its toll on mills and put people out of work.
“We’ve been saying this is going to take place and it has been and it will continue,” Hinson said.
L-P is one of the top 10 employers in Sandpoint and has been for more than 25 years. If the company moves it will be a blow to an already sluggish economy.
“L-P has long been a stable employer and a very important part of our economy. It would hurt to lose those jobs,” said Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jonathan Coe.
The mill sits off Fifth Avenue on about 25 acres of prime commercial property within the city. The land and mill equipment are valued at more than $4 million.
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