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Cascades Tissue Group may expand in St. Helens

The Quebec company announced plans Thursday


by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - Boise Inc.'s paper mill in St. Helens, which the company shared with Cascades Tissue Group until last December, when it shut down operations at the site. Cascades has continued to operate at the mill.The Canadian tissues company that formerly shared a St. Helens property with Boise Inc. announced Thursday, Sept. 19, that it plans to expand its operations there.

Quebec-based Cascades Tissue Group plans to retrofit a paper machine previously used by Boise at the St. Helens plant, creating 29 new jobs over the next year.

Cascades Inc., the group’s parent company, said in a statement the expansion will also “help preserve 59 existing jobs” in St. Helens.

“The retrofitting of an existing machine will allow us to bring the additional capacity to this market at a reduced capital cost and on a faster timeline than if we were to build a new machine,” said Suzanne Blanchett, Cascades Tissue Group president and chief executive officer. “Moreover, the addition of a second machine will allow us to improve the overall operating efficiency of the St. Helens operation as a whole.”

According to Cascades Inc., the expansion would nearly double Cascades’ output in St. Helens, increasing annual tissue paper capacity by 55,000 tons. Total annual output from the two machines at the plant would be 120,000 tons.

The project has an estimated cost of $35 million. The machine is planned to come online late next year.

On Monday, the Scappoose City Council voted to approve granting extended South Columbia County Enterprise Zone benefits to Cascades, joining other zone sponsors in approving the application. The Columbia County Board of Commissioners briefly discussed the idea Wednesday, but did not take action.

Nevertheless, Commissioner Tony Hyde, who said he was familiar with Cascades’ plans, heralded the news.

“They have full intention of hiring back employees that have since been laid off from Boise,” said Hyde. “I mean, it is good news for the community, and although it is not the larger employer that we were used to, this is a pretty important step for that piece of property and that mill site.”

Under the extended enterprise zone benefits, Cascades would have five years of its property taxes abated in exchange for agreeing to pay employee wages and benefits at least 50 percent higher than the county’s median wage.

This week also brought major news for Boise, which ended operations at its St. Helens paper mill at the end of last year, laying off more than 100 workers.

The Idaho-based company announced Monday that it accepted a $2 billion purchase offer from Packaging Corp. of America.

Boise spokeswoman Karen Blanchard said Tuesday that PCA will be responsible for deciding what to do with Boise’s assets after the deal is closed.

“Once the transaction with PCA is finalized, PCA will assume all rights and obligations that Boise has regarding the St. Helens site,” Blanchard said, adding, “For Boise Inc., it’s business as usual until the transaction closes.”

Columbia County Economic Team Executive Director Chuck Daughtry told county commissioners Wednesday that PCA will honor the agreement between Boise and Cascades to share mill space and equipment.

“There’s really no impact ... to what they’re seeking in terms of the application,” Daughtry assured the commissioners.

PCA did not return a call for comment at its Lake Forest, Ill., headquarters.

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