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Tuesday, May 21, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Loth Lumber Mill Closes -- Analyst Sees It As Symptomatic Of The Timber Industry's Troubles

GOLD BAR

After 42 years of continuous operation, hard times in the timber industry have closed Loth Lumber, a major employer in the Gold Bar area.

The family owned cedar sawmill has laid off the last of 120 millworkers, although about a dozen managers and support staff remain. Owner Jeff Loth said the closure was temporary, but he could not estimate when the mill might reopen.

Loth's closure is the largest and most significant of the nine in Washington this year, said Paul Ehinger, a Eugene, Ore., timber analyst who tracks mill closures.

Unlike mills that have been financially shaky, Ehinger said, Loth's closure is symptomatic of the industry's problems because it had been a stable business and steady employer for many years.

Jeff Loth said tight money, environmental issues and the recession combined to cause the closure. He said he does not plan to file for bankruptcy reorganization and expects to start up again when conditions in the industry improve.

"We're just taking a breather right now," said Loth. "We're not done."

Loth Lumber was founded by Jeff Loth's father, Gordon. But its roots extended back to a shingle business founded by Jeff Loth's grandfather about 1933.

Loth Lumber produced cedar siding and other cedar products, exporting them to Pacific Rim countries, Europe and Canada. Only two years ago, Loth owned three sawmills and employed about 300 people. One of those mills was sold about a year and a half ago. Another, in Forks, has been leased to another party since September.

Loth compared his situation now to a puzzle that's been dropped on the floor and said he needs time to "get the pieces of the puzzle back together."

The shutdown will give him time to sit down and look at his options, he said.

"Time is all we need," he said, adding: "All these things just snowballed. I'm just regrouping . . . I'm getting a handle on it."

Many of the Washington mills that have closed employed fewer than 10 people, Ehinger said. But two Port Angeles sawmills employing about 60 people have closed, as did a sawmill on the edge of the Colville National Forest, in Ione, that employed about 60.

In addition to the sawmill closures, two plants belonging to Portland-based WTD Industries - a Morton veneer plant and a Graham plywood plant - have laid off about 150 workers this year. Ehinger said.

In Oregon, five sawmills have closed this year. The largest was the Weyerhaeuser mill in Springfield that shut down last month, leaving 290 people out of work.

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

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