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Last CdA mill to close in May

Jason Taylor, of Post Falls, has worked at the DeArmond Mill in Coeur d'Alene for 16 years. Of its closure, he said:
Jason Taylor, of Post Falls, has worked at the DeArmond Mill in Coeur d'Alene for 16 years. Of its closure, he said: "We understand that it's a business."The Spokesman-Reivew (Kathy Plonka The Spokesman-Reivew / The Spokesman-Review)

Coeur d’Alene’s last sawmill will process its final log in May, a casualty of the nation’s mortgage lending crisis and rising values for waterfront property.

Stimson Lumber Co. gave its 60 hourly employees at the DeArmond mill a two-month notice Tuesday. Workers weren’t surprised.

“Everyone’s been ready,” said DeArmond employee Jason Taylor, who discussed the news with his wife, Angie, when she picked him up from work Tuesday afternoon. “There’s been rumors for three years, and the market’s been so bad lately … . We understand that it’s a business.”

Taylor makes 2-by-4s and 2-by-6s, which are in low demand these days. Prices for framing lumber have plummeted along with the nation’s housing starts.

“The housing market is down and out,” said Andrew Miller, Stimson’s chief executive officer. “A lot of people in our industry thought it would be a short downturn. But in my view, this market will not turn around for 18 months to two years.”

That speeded up the inevitable, according to Miller.

Stimson planned to sell the 17-acre mill site along the Spokane River to Black Rock Development by the end of 2009. With the mill already scheduled for closure, Stimson opted to cut its losses, Miller said.

The DeArmond is the last of the waterfront mills that dominated Coeur d’Alene’s economy through the early and mid-1900s. Local leaders hope to see the site transition to educational uses.

They want to buy the 17 acres for an expansion of North Idaho College’s adjacent campus and a “higher education corridor” offering satellite programs from Idaho universities.

Black Rock’s Marshall Chesrown has agreed to sell the property at cost – $10 million – if financing can be arranged.

“The plans are still in their formative stage,” said Kent Propst, a North Idaho College spokesman. “We can’t acquire it until we have the resources.”

Where the money would come from is still under discussion, said Mike Gridley, attorney for the city of Coeur d’Alene. But those talks will be accelerating, he predicted.

“To a large point, it’s been hypothetical,” Gridley said. “When the mill goes away, it becomes a reality.”

The mill’s early closure could speed up the date of the sale, said Chesrown, who had not yet talked to Miller on Tuesday afternoon.

After Stimson removes the sawmill buildings and cleans up the site, the company could sell the property within 30 days. Chesrown said it’s possible that the sale could close before the end of the year.

Jason Taylor isn’t sure what he’ll do when his job of 16 years ends. The 37-year-old Post Falls resident might go to work for his brother-in-law’s excavation business. His wife, however, is trying to talk him into going back to school.

“I’d love for him to be a plumber,” Angie Taylor said.

Terry Lindquist, 54, said he hopes the state of Idaho will provide retraining for workers.

He’s collected paychecks from the DeArmond mill for 31 years, hiring on after a stint in the Air Force. The pay is among the best in town, he said – averaging $16 to $18 per hour, plus production bonuses.

When it became obvious that the mill would close, Lindquist and his wife sold their Coeur d’Alene house and moved into a double-wide mobile home.

“We’ve been planning for it by scaling down,” he said.

Lindquist has considered a new career in truck driving or heating and air conditioning. He’ll miss the mill’s camaraderie.

“It’s a great bunch of men,” he said. “We go four-wheeling a lot and visit each others’ hunting camps. We all love the outdoors.”

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