Abitibi's One Step Closer - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

02/22/05 - Angelina County

Abitibi's One Step Closer

by Jessica Cervantez

Angelina County commissioners made a decision that could help Abitibi re-open its idled mill in Lufkin. It is a move that could bring back hundreds of employees. But, if production at the mill is going to resume it needs to happen quickly.

Angelina County commissioners approved a ten-year tax abatement. A decision that could make a big difference, in getting production started again at the Abitibi mill.

Debbie Johnston, the public affairs director for mill said, "When the mill was idled last year the value of the mill was drastically decreased. Once it starts up the value typically goes up. What we're asking them to abate is the difference of what it is now, and what it will be when it is fully operational, which means they won't be losing anymore than they are receiving today in property taxes."

While the unanimous vote is a positive step forward, it will take more than the support from county commissioners to get the paper mill rolling.

Johnston said, "This week, we are scheduled to meet with the city and the economic development partnership and we're asking the same thing. Hopefully, all will participate and we're certainly not just depending on them."

Abitibi representatives and city leaders have 45 days to make a recommendation to the Abitibi corporation, but there is stiff competition. Another mill, in Canada, is also fighting for the investment.

Jim Wehmeier, the economic development director, said, "I hope the community understands how blessed you are to have an opportunity like this. Not only would this put 450 employees back to work that are paid well above the average in the area, but the company is also looking into investing an additional $100-million plus, that's a mind boggling amount of money."

That money would help convert the number eight machine at the mill into making a new upgraded paper product. If the corporation invests in restarting production in Lufkin, some of the hundreds of laid off employees could get called back to work immediately

When the mill was idled in December, of 2003, more than 500 employees lost their jobs. A final decision about the mill's future is expected by the end of March.

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