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Montana senators want contract reworked for aluminum company

Thu., Jan. 8, 2009

HELENA – The power contract between Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. and the Bonneville Power Administration must be renegotiated quickly to help the company stabilize and keep people employed, Montana’s U.S. senators say in a letter to BPA.

Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester say reworking the agreement under which the company gets electricity to operate is critical.

In late December, Columbia Falls Aluminum gave employees 60 days’ notice the plant would stop producing aluminum, cutting up to 200 jobs. The previous July, the company reduced production and laid off 125 employees.

The job cuts are tied to a number of things, among them declining demand for aluminum as the economy slides and industries such as housing and automobile manufacturing slow, company spokesman Haley Beaudry said Tuesday. Obtaining a new power contract is important, but that alone would not necessarily safeguard jobs at the plant, Beaudry indicated.

“For power to be the reason the plant would continue to operate, the new arrangement would have to outweigh the other disadvantages that the economy has forced onto the plant,” Beaudry said.

He declined to say how much of CFAC’s operating expense lies in power costs.

The call for a new contract follows a December decision in which the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down terms under which Northwest aluminum companies obtained power through BPA. Even though the court found defects, it “upheld the ability of BPA to continue to provide some level of benefits to Columbia Falls Aluminum Co.,” Baucus and Tester wrote.

BPA spokesman Scott Simms said Tuesday that the power marketing agency is “in complete agreement with the words stated by Sens. Tester and Baucus that this is an urgent matter.” Simms said that representatives of BPA and the company have conferred, but that he did not know how rapidly talks were progressing.



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