A little more than two years after Georgia-Pacific (GP) announced a major restructuring that eliminated close to 300 positions, closed the “Roaring 20” office paper line and shuttered pulp operations at the Camas paper mill, the company says it is reinvesting in the local manufacturing plant.
GP officials told its 150 Camas employees last week that the company is investing $15 million in capital improvements to make the remaining paper towel line more competitive and the plant itself more environmentally sustainable.
“The approval of these key projects is great news and I want to thank our 150 team members for their hard work and dedication this past year,” Shawn Wood, vice president and manager of the Camas mill, stated in a news release.
According to Kristi Ward, GP’s public affairs manager for the Camas mill, the $15 million in capital investments include a package boiler that will “significantly increase (the mill’s) steam generation and reduce emissions” and a project that will allow the mill to recycle more water and “reduce water consumption and wastewater discharge.”
Another project, expected to be completed in early 2021, will improve the mill’s wireless capabilities and internal network.
The investments, according to the company’s news release, will result in a cost-reduction benefit for the mill’s paper towel products, “which positions the mill and (its) 150 team members to better compete for the long-term in the towel business.”
The company expects construction of the package boiler to begin later this year and be ready for use in early 2021. The company will update neighbors in downtown Camas before the anticipated six-month construction begins.
Bill Spring, vice president of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, worked at the Camas mill for 30 years and was involved in helping recently displaced Camas mill workers figure out their next steps.
“Any kind of improvements they’re making to the facility is encouraging,” Spring said.
For the remaining 150 workers who depend on what Spring called the “good, family-wage jobs” at the Camas mill, the news is positive, he said.
GP has said the $15 million in 2020-21 investments will make the plant more sustainable, with the package boiler expected to reduce the Camas mill’s energy use by roughly 400,000 MMBTU (1 million British Thermal Units), “which continues the Camas mill’s long-term commitment to energy conservation and environmental sustainability,” according to the company’s news release.
“It’s an encouraging sign that (GP is) planning to continue operations there,” Spring said, adding that “it certainly would be nice” to see the mill someday expand operations on the 684-acre facility it owns in downtown Camas.
As the paper mill industry continues to change — GP, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, which owns the Camas mill, blamed the 2018 layoffs and slowdown on a lack of customer demand for office paper, but in a ruling that gave displaced Camas mill workers federal assistance for retraining and extended unemployment and health insurance benefits, the United States Department of Labor Office of Trade Adjustment Assistance said foreign import competition and “increased customer imports of uncoated free sheet papers and paper towels” led to a sales decline and, ultimately, to the shuttering of the Camas pulp mill and office paper production line in May 2018 — other paper mills in the Pacific Northwest have looked to non-traditional methods and innovations to remain relevant.
At GP’s paper mill in Toledo, Oregon, for instance, the company recently invested in a process known as Juno Technology, which allows the mill to extract fiber from landfill waste and use it in the pulping process.
At this point, there is no indication that GP is considering using its patented Juno(R) Technology, which is being piloted at the Toledo location, at any other Pacific Northwest mill, but Spring said he believes the Camas mill would be in a good position to take advantage of the technology.
“In my opinion (installing similar technology at) the Camas mill would make sense, because it’s much closer to the Portland-Vancouver area” and would be able to collect and utilize much of the area’s recycled paper waste, Spring said.