About 100 Louisiana-Pacific Corp. lumber mill workers in Sandpoint and Chilco may be back on the job this month after a nearly four-month layoff at the two plants.
An upswing in lumber prices and housing starts, the purchase of some timber stands plus better weather have L-P officials optimistic about putting both mills back on line.
“Chilco should start up in about a week, and sometime shortly after that, we expect to resume work at Sandpoint and have both plants at full capacity,” said Jim Beldin, a spokesman for L-P’s Northwest Division.
“The timber markets have strengthened and we are guardedly optimistic about the future.”
In February, the Sandpoint plant was shut down along with part of the Chilco sawmill. The Chilco mill supplies the Sandpoint plant with timber, where it is finished into dimensional lumber.
When the operations shut down, about 55 Chilco workers and 60 Sandpoint employees were laid off. Some L-P workers here speculated the Sandpoint mill would not reopen and that the operation would be moved to Chilco.
Beldin said that was being considered and some preliminary permitting work was completed to make the move. But that idea was put on hold when the timber market slumped.
“It could still be considered in the future but that plan has now been mothballed,” Beldin said. “We expect both plants to resume operation and we want to put people back to work.”
That’s good news for Sandpoint and Bonner County, where much of the economy still is fueled by the timber industry. L-P has long been one of the top employers here, paying out an estimated $4 million in wages last year.
“This is a bright spot. It’s some real positive news for Bonner County,” said Shawn Keough, timber specialist for the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce.
“The mood, especially in Priest River, has been depressing lately. There have been a lot of folks worried about what they are going to do for jobs and how they are going to pay the bills,” she said.
Last summer L-P closed its Priest River mill and moved equipment and many of its 100 employees to Chilco. In October, L-P also shut down its Post Falls mill, leaving 100 workers jobless. The layoffs that followed at Chilco and Sandpoint had many here nervous about a crash in the local economy.
“We have been working really hard on economic development, but we still don’t have anything available that is going to replace those high paying timber jobs,” Keough said.
Keough said local retailers already are stinging from the four-month layoff at the plant. Every timber job here provides another 1-1/2 jobs in other industries, she said.
“Grocery clerks, retail clerks and gas station attendants are all working partly because those people in the timber industry have money to spend,” Keough said. “They are the ones buying cars, groceries and eating out. L-P is a very important part of this community.”
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