Abitibi, a Year Later

by Jessica Cervantez

It has now been a year since one of the largest employers in Angelina County made an announcement. The Abitibi mill would be idled, leaving more than 500 employees without jobs. But, there is still hope for the future.

There used to be loud noise, hard hats, and hundreds of employees inside the mill. Now, Abitibi is mostly empty. It took a lot to get used to the change.

Delton Smith, a site manager for Abitibi, said, "We have had a very challenging year. When the mill was operating, there was a lot of people out here. Right now, we do not have but 12, and it took us awhile to adjust to the mill being down."

A year ago, nearly 600 employees kept the mill running. Now it operates with only a dozen.

Debbie Johnston, public affairs director for the mill, said, "Over the past year, the workers have maintained the facility, from housekeeping of the building to maintenance, keeping the equipment ready to go."

Employers have tried to keep up with most former employees. They say their presence is still closeby.

Smith said, "Everytime you walk through the mill, you see faces. But I'm optimistic about the future. Maybe something will happen where we will call some of them back."

That is what they ultimately want for the future. A core team has been working on various scenarios to get the mill up and running again. A weak demand for newsprint and high energy costs idled the mill in the first place.

Johnston said, "Most likely, the mill will not be manufacturing newsprint. We are looking at a different number of grades."

While they remain optimistic about the future, no target date for expanding operations again has been set.