Paper Mill to Begin Indefinite Idling

A paper machine that normally roars, sits quietly. A team of twelve employees called the site team will ensure the paper mill and its equipment are maintained. Meanwhile, company officials are looking into other options to make the mill more profitable if and when it resumes production.

"There's a group that's looking at options, still definitely in the study phase. Some of the options they're considering involve different grades of paper that could possibly be made on either the number 2 or number 8 paper machine and other options deal with energy, fuel, different types of boiler configurations that might be used to reduce the energy cost here at the mill," explained Abitibi spokesperson Debbie Johnston.

Abitibi officials say the mill will be kept in good working order, with the hopes of eventually restarting the mill's two paper machines if market conditions improve and natural gas prices go down.

"The biggest hurdle for this mill is market conditions, and regardless of the grade that we make or whatever option we think would be feasible for this particular site, what the restart of the mill will really depend on is a sustained improvement in paper markets," added Johnston.

The idling meant that the mill's more than 400 hourly employees, and close to 100 salaried employees, lost their jobs. Hourly workers were paid through February 8th, although many actually left before that date. The last day for salaried employees is Wednesday. Many of them have already found other jobs or retired. Most of the mill's laid-off employees have walked through the doors of the Abitibi Workforce Center in Lufkin.

"[They are] focusing on making the decision whether or not they need to retrain or go back to work, and we've had a lot of traffic. All in all, we've had almost 1500 people in and out of the center. But they're really utilizing the computers a lot more, they've been through some of the basic training classes, and now we're getting ready to see the salaried and management individuals," explained Melanie Brown.

In some ways, the Lufkin paper mill now resembles something from a ghost town. While some people hold on to hope that the mill will someday re-open, others believe we have seen the end of an era.