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Auction at Blue Heron mill draws a crowd

by: lori hall A man inspects a piece of equipment up for auction at the Blue Heron Paper Company in Oregon City.

It's almost impossible to exaggerate the enormity of what the bankruptcy auction of the Blue Heron Paper Company could mean to West Linn and Oregon City, as hundreds of investors descended last week to sift though everything from used forklifts to bags of concrete to office equipment.

'You have all of North America here,' said Andrew Mills, an investment associate from Ontario-based NRI Global.

Eerie sights greeted curious visitors around every corner during a Sept. 19 auction preview.

Before bids are entered on the real estate by Oct. 19, auctioneers attempted to sell every piece of movable property off the site. The auction was held on site Sept. 21 and 22.

The best view of the Willamette Falls in all of Oregon City lies outside of a rusty office door. The office itself had no windows facing the falls, presumably to prevent distraction of employees, and boxes of files had been strewn around the room.

Jeff Steinfeld, the metals program coordinator for Far West Fibers, estimated that the thousands of pounds of metal would be worth a bid of about $5.5 million. As he looked out over the magnificent vista that had previously only been the purview of Blue Heron employees and police enforcing fishing rules, he wished the Metro regional government luck in providing public access.

'I hope Metro has the money to break up all the concrete, because that's going to be a huge environmental liability,' Steinfeld said.

About 175 mill workers lost their jobs in February, but a federal bankruptcy judge ruled in March that they would receive severance pay and benefits.

In looking around for industrial equipment to resell over the Internet, Washington resident Bert Bergman had trouble holding in his emotions and focusing on his task at hand.

'It's a little overwhelming because it's so tragic what's occurred,' Bergman said.

Though the mill is located in Oregon City, it has an associated property of nearly 40 acres in West Linn. That property treated water from the mill before it was returned back into the Willamette River.

Both the Oregon City property and the West Linn property are up for sale. Bids will be accepted through Oct. 19. The city of West Linn has stated that though the property is zoned industrial and residential, it would likely remain undeveloped because it is in a natural floodplain. Some questions about the property will remain unanswered until bids are revealed.

Staff Reporter Lori Hall contributed to this story