Monday, May 6, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Timber Industry

9 Idled As Weyerhaeuser Mill Closes In Oregon


SPRINGFIELD, Ore. - The Weyerhaeuser Co. has announced it will close its sawmill here, forcing the layoff of 270 people.

The company said that the closure will begin Friday and should be completed by June 28.

The company, which has operated the mill for 43 years, blamed the high price of old-growth logs and the reduced supply of federal timber.

"It's the end of an era," said Red Leopard, president of the International Woodworkers of America union Local 3-246 in Springfield, which represents the mill's workers. "It saddens me. This is the beginning of something more serious in the industry."

"This is going to cause economic problems," said Springfield Mayor Bill Morrisette, who called Weyerhaeuser a "good neighbor" over the years. "It's bleak. Losing 250 jobs in the city right now is bad, terrible."

The shutdown is one of the biggest mill closures to hit Oregon this year. It reflects deepening timber-industry woes, including federal timber supply restrictions to protect the Northwest's old growth forests and spotted owls, a severe slowdown in demand for wood products and continued stiff competition from Canadian and Southern producers.

Lane County alone has lost 2,100 timber industry jobs in the past 12 months - a drop of nearly 20 percent.

About 940 workers will remain at Weyerhaeuser's huge complex in east Springfield, which includes a pulp and paper mill, particleboard plant, logging operations and the company's Oregon

Division headquarters.

The plant closure follows the company's layoff of 290 sawmill workers last August, when Weyerhaueser slashed production.

But the mill has continued to lose about $766,000 a month, plant manager Roger Hunt said. Between Oct. 1 and April 1, the mill lost $4.6 million, or 19 percent below break-even point, Hunt said. In 1988, the mill showed a 6 percent profit.

Hunt added that Weyerhaeuser officials do not believe the federal timber supply will improve in the years to come, even when national lumber markets rebound.

"The driver (of the closure) continues to be the lack of log supplies and the high cost of logs," Hunt said.

The Springfield mill can process only large-diameter old growth logs. The mill's cost of buying these large logs has risen from $570 per 1,000 board feet in 1988 to $760 per 1,000, the company said. The Willamette National Forest east of Eugene sold 518 million board feet of mostly old-growth timber in 1988, but so far this year has sold only 110,000 board feet, Hunt noted.

Weyerhaeuser has decided against spending the millions of dollars it would take to retool the mill to process smaller second-growth logs that are coming of age on the more than 400,000 acres of Weyerhaeuser timberlands near Springfield and Cottage Grove, Hunt said.

Weyerhaeuser began buying federal old-growth timber in the mid-1980s, when it ran out of old-growth on its own lands. The company owns 1.3 million acres of timberland in Oregon.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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