Georgia-Pacific reported Tuesday that the company plans to shutdown major portions of its Camas paper mill in the spring of 2018, and cut 280 to 300 jobs — more than two-thirds of its local workforce.
“It’s surprising and not surprising,” Camas Mayor Scott Higgins said on Tuesday afternoon, after the news went public. “The mill has been having less employees for quite some time now. But it’s still shocking and this is a big loss, especially for the employees, for their families.”
The shutdown will affect the plant’s office papers machine, pulp operations and related equipment.
Kristi Ward, Georgia-Pacific’s spokeswoman for the Camas paper mill, said Wednesday that all pulp operations and production of office-related papers will cease next spring, but that it will take much longer for the company to actually deconstruct those portions of the mill.
“Tuesday was about communicating with employees that this is happening,” Ward said. “We don’t have the whole (deconstruction) plan for the next two years yet.”
About 120 to 140 employees will stay on to run the Camas mill’s remaining tissue paper machines. But the “mill smell” will go away next spring, since Georgia-Pacific plans to buy pulp for its tissue paper production, Ward said.
Higgins said executives from the Georgia-Pacific paper mill contacted him with the restructuring news shortly before telling their employees this afternoon.
“They gave us a heads up just a few minutes before,” Higgins, a Camas native and Camas High grad who remembers when the mill was Camas’ biggest employer.
Although he said he understands that economic factors, including global competition and a change in the way people use paper, forced the restructuring, Higgins said the news is still a shock for many longtime Camas residents.
“It’s a blow to who we are. I mean, we’re the Papermakers,” Higgins said, referring to Camas High mascot. “Part of our papermaking identity is shutting down.”
Although it is not as large as it once was, the Camas mill is still a major employer in the Camas-Washougal area. Located in downtown Camas, the mill, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, sits on 656 acres and has been a major area employer since 1883.
“Camas employees have done an excellent job operating and maintaining the communication papers assets for as long as they have. However, economic impacts from the continuing decline in demand for communication papers make it necessary to discontinue operations for uncoated freesheet at Camas. Georgia-Pacific will continue manufacturing communication papers at our Port Hudson, Louisiana, facility,” Mike Adams, president of GP PRO and Communication Papers, stated in a press release sent to media this afternoon.
Higgins said today that he has been told that the company will likely do some deconstructing of the facilities they won’t be using anymore.
The mayor added that he is thankful for the many years of service that the mill has had in Camas, and said the news represented the largest downsizing of the paper mill that he has experienced since becoming a city leader — first as a city council member and then as the city’s mayor — more than 15 years ago.
“Growing up here, most kids’ families were connected to the mill. That was just kind of who we were,” Higgins said. “But that has been changing for quite some time. City leadership for the past 30 or 40 years has been shifting away from being a one-mill town. That helps the city, but this is still hard on the families affected by (the layoffs).”
Monty Brown, vice president of Georgia-Pacific’s consumer products paper operations, stated in a press release that corporate leaders at the mill realized the news would be hard for many Camas families.
“We know this will be difficult for Camas employees and their families who ultimately will be affected by this decision. We are committed to work with employees to find ways to minimize the difficulty as best we can. But we also know the professionalism of our team and know that they will continue to operate safely for each other and the community,” Brown said. “I want to personally thank the team in advance for their dedication through this challenging time.”