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Ponderay Newsprint auction winner likely to be announced Friday

UPDATED: Thu., April 22, 2021

The Ponderay Newsprint Mill’s production area is shown during a tour of the closed facility on Dec. 17. Three qualified bidders are vying in an auction for the mill.  (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The Ponderay Newsprint Mill’s production area is shown during a tour of the closed facility on Dec. 17. Three qualified bidders are vying in an auction for the mill. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Three qualified bidders have submitted bids in the auction to purchase the shuttered Ponderay Newsprint mill in Usk, Washington, with the winner expected to be named Friday afternoon.

Up to this point, negotiations failed to find a new owner for the 927-acre property, which consists of 29 buildings and storage facilities and is adjacent to the Pend Oreille Valley Railroad and Pend Oreille River. What was once one of the largest employers in Pend Oreille County was listed for sale in December for $11.5 million.

Bankruptcy trustee John Munding is looking over the bids and said he expects to make a decision by Friday. It would then go before a federal bankruptcy judge for final approval at a later hearing.

“Presently, there are three qualified bidders who are pursuing the assets,” Munding said Thursday.

The bidders, whom he did not identify, put forward the minimum $350,000 deposit to qualify for the auction. Munding said he will choose the “highest and best offer,” which doesn’t necessarily mean the highest dollar amount.

“I will have made my decision, at least preliminarily” on Friday, he said.

Munding sought approval from U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Frederick Corbit to conduct the auction because of the ongoing bills to the bankruptcy estate for keeping the mill in working order.“The cost to maintain the facility is astronomical in terms of security and utilities, just the preservation of the asset,” Munding said.

The auction is the latest development in a process that started when the mill’s owners filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection and closed in June. It employed about 150 people at the time.

The operation was owned jointly by Lake Superior Forest Products, a subsidiary of Quebec-based Resolute Forest Products, and five major U.S. publishers. The Kalispel Tribe of Indians earlier had expressed interest in purchasing the mill and submitted a bid. But it was turned down in October.

Munding previously said the goal is to find a buyer who would reopen the plant, which had operated since 1989 and could be converted into making molded fiber or linear board.

The land and buildings have a combined assessed value of more than $59 million, according a recent property tax statement from the Pend Oreille County Treasurer’s Office.

“The process has been moving very professionally, and I’m pleased with the participants,” Munding said of the three bidders. “There will be a hearing once we know who the successful bidder is. Judge Corbit has the final say to approve the successful bidder.”

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