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City considers Boise plans to 'shut down' and weighs lagoon expense

The announcement last week that Boise Inc. will shut down its remaining paper machine in St. Helens at the end of the year, eliminating 106 jobs, caught many in the community by surprise, but the apparent closure could carry less obvious implications, say county and city officials.

When Boise Inc. first scaled down mill operations in November 2009, the company shuttered two machines and laid off 300 employees - and sewer costs went up for St. Helens residents, said Columbia County Commissioner Henry Heimuller.

According to St. Helens Mayor Randy Peterson, the city has a sewer use agreement with Boise Inc. A large secondary lagoon was built “for, and only for, the paper mill,” its use made cost-efficient because the then-large paper mill was footing the bulk of the maintenance expenses, he said.

Boise Inc. shares its facilities with the smaller Cascade Tissues Group, which remains in operation at the site, but the sewer use agreement is only between the city and Boise, Peterson said.

“There’s language (in the sewer use agreement) about what happens if Boise closes the mill,” Peterson said. “And we would argue that this is a closure.” It’s not clear if Cascade Tissues Group would take over full use of the lagoon, he said.

“There are some dredging issues and things like that, big ticket items,” Peterson said. Cascades Tissue Group, which runs a much smaller operation than Boise, will likely have different needs.

“We’re just going to have to wait and see,” he said, adding that the impact is still more on the lost jobs and what this means for the affected families.

Rising sewer and water rates are not “out of the question,” Peterson said, but it’s also too early to tell.

“That lagoon can be made smaller,” he said. “A lot of the costs (of running the lagoon) right now are power costs ... If we’re not using the lagoon, the power costs will be less.”

In the meantime, Boise Inc. spokeswoman Karen Blanchard said the company is continuing to work through the logistics of shutting down the paper mill. Union negotiations are scheduled to occur mid-November.

Decreased demand for the product produced at the mill led to the decision to shut it down, she said. The company expects to cease production by Dec. 31.

“This (closure) will obviously have an impact,” Blanchard said, but added that “the workforce here continues to be professional and do their jobs.”

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