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Naples mill set to close

A Naples, Idaho, sawmill employing 93 workers is expected to be shuttered in December and its workers laid off indefinitely.

Welco Lumber Company USA, which makes cedar picket fence boards, announced Thursday that it can operate more efficiently by closing the mill south of Bonners Ferry and concentrating production at its main Shelton, Wash., sawmill.

Employees were notified Wednesday of the closure.

The Shelton mill recently underwent upgrades that will allow the company to meet production demands through the foreseeable future, said Peter Stroble, director of sales and marketing for the company.

The closure is expected in the third week of December. Employees are eligible for up to four weeks of severance pay at a rate of one week of severance for each year of employment with a minimum payment of $1,000.

“It’s sad to have to lay them off,” Stroble said. “They are good, hardworking people up there.”

Welco buys cedar logs for its production. It has owned and operated the Naples mill since 1992. Naples is 22 miles north of Sandpoint along U.S. Highway 95.

Stroble said the company has no plans to sell the Naples mill and probably could not find a buyer for it even if it wanted to sell.

The wood products industry has been hard hit by the downturn in the national housing market and accompanying economic recession.

Stroble said the company has the option of restarting the mill but company officials believe the Shelton mill will produce sufficient fence boards to meet forecasted sales growth and any improvement in the economy through 2012. The Shelton plant could be expanded to meet additional demand in 2013 and beyond.

Welco is a locally owned company that started 58 years ago in Marysville and later moved to Shelton. Its Web site says Welco is “North America’s leading primary manufacturer of western red cedar fence pickets.”