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Newberg paper mill will close for good


Multiple sources verify that new owner Westrock will shutter the mill permanently; workers will get back pay under federal act

The Newberg paper mill will permanently close and WestRock Co. officials say it will not reopen, a change from what until now had been described as an “indefinite idle” status.

WestRock, which purchased the former SP Fiber Tech. mill last summer, told Newberg’s community development department Thursday afternoon that the facility will close. The closure was then announced in WestRock’s quarterly earnings report Friday morning, company spokesperson Tucker McNeil said.

The announcement brings to an end ongoing speculation that began when the mill was “indefinitely idled” in November. At that time the company maintained it would monitor the market and could reopen the mill “in the event west coast demand warrants a restart.”GARY ALLEN - News came this week that the WestRock paper mill in Newberg will soon close permanently and its more than 200 workers will join the ranks of the unemployed. The future of the mill remains uncertain, although some sources said it would be scrapped and the land sold.

When the mill shuttered in mid-November the majority of the roughly 210 workers at the facility were laid off. Since then several dozen workers have been burning up the remainder of the hog fuel in the boiler and preparing the facility for its shuttered state.

Robb Renne, president of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers Local 60, said the laid-off workers are now considered “terminated.”

Because the closure is now permanent, WestRock told the union it will pay workers money owed through the WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) Act, which guarantees laid-off workers will receive 60 days’ work or pay from the announcement of a company layoff. Some workers continued to work for longer than that period after WestRock announced the Newberg idle in November, but a majority were laid off in less than 60 days.

Renne was told that the back pay money will come “as soon as possible.”

Of the workers who have remained at the mill, Renne said roughly 15 or 20 were terminated Friday.

While the change to permanent closure certainly changes the complexion of what was in store for the mill, Renne said the crews doing cleanup work will continue on with the idle preparation as the plant’s physical future is still yet to be determined.

“We’re going to complete that and continue, pending whatever happens down the road,” he said. “We’re going to go ahead and lay it up just like it was going to start back up at some point.”

Reactions to the announcement have been varied, Renne said.

“There were people that were definitely surprised by the announcement, but at the same time, if you put a realistic eye on it, it’s big business,” he said. “That’s what they do, they’re trying to protect their place in the marketplace.”

Newberg Mayor Bob Andrews said the city has not had much time to do in-depth strategizing, since the information came in only Thursday. The mill sits mostly on county land, but there are still a host of implications for the city and its residents.

“We are very concerned both from the economic (impact) as well as for the impact on city services,” Andrews said. “What are we going to have in the way of a derelict out there that creates a problem for public safety?”

WestRock has not released plans about the future of the physical plant.

During its quarterly earnings report, the company also noted that a mill in Coshochton, Ohio, which was also idled in the manner of the Newberg plant, is now considered permanently closed.