Operations cease at La Grande sawmill
Written by Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer June 29, 2009 03:25 pm


Shovel operator Steve Campbell sets the last log on the bull chain Wednesday at the Boise Cascade sawmill in La Grande. The bull chain carries the log to the debarker, head rig and then through the mill. Now that the final log has been cut at Boise Cascade’s La Grande sawmill, the timber products giant says it has no plans to sell or dismantle the facility.

Boise announced last month it was planning to close the mill, which has been an economic mainstay in Union County for decades. An estimated 120 employees are affected.

The last log was put to the saw Wednesday afternoon. John Sahlberg, a media relations specialist in Boise’s corporate office in Boise, said the plant will be mothballed.

“We’ll have people doing maintenance and fire protection. I can tell you there are no plans to sell it or tear it down,” Sahlberg said.
He added there are numerous details to look after before the mill is completely shut.

“We’re making preparations for shutdown. We’ll be running product through the planer and some people will be working through mid-July,” he said.

Sahlberg said closing the mill was something the company hated to do.

“It’s a sad, sad day for us. It’s a day we wish we weren’t looking at,” he said.

On April 30, Boise announced its plans to shut the mill and also one in Kettle Falls, Wash.

The company cited numerous problems, including turmoil in financial markets, continuing home foreclosures, elevated inventories of unsold homes, falling median home prices, rising unemployment and low consumer confidence.

All those factors contributed to a weak demand for the building products made by Boise, said Human Resources Officer Steve Lyon.

Boise has been struggling with poor market conditions the past several years, cutting back production and reducing the work force at the

La Grande sawmill, the particleboard plant and facilities in Elgin.

Boise employees are represented in labor negotiations by the Carpenters Industrial Council. In a last-ditch effort to cut costs, Boise asked locals in the Inland Region to approve an amendment to the collective bargaining agreement.

The amendment called for deferral of wage increases and temporary reductions in vacation and holiday provisions. It was rejected in a vote in April.

Union representatives told The Observer employees voted against it mainly because Boise could not guarantee the mills would continue to operate. They also said workers had already made significant sacrifices in wages and health insurance benefits.

A subsidiary of Boise, Boise Building Solutions, did recently announce that it has acquired the Kinzua sawmill in Pilot Rock.

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