NPR Story
5:08 pm
Thu January 30, 2014

Battered Coastal Paper Mill Now Faces Demolition

Originally published on Fri January 31, 2014 7:14 am

A paper mill on Washington’s central coast has had it's share of ups and downs over the past seven years.

It was a major employer and once even referred to as the “greenest” paper mill in the country. It was also a symbol for Grays Harbor County’s effort to reinvent itself after the timber market collapsed.

But now the mill is closed for good.

In late October 2012, there was a celebration to mark the reopening of Hoquiam’s paper mill. Among those speaking that day was then candidate for governor, Jay Inslee.

“It doesn’t matter what the weather is, the brightest place today in the state of Washington is right here at Harbor Paper, that’s for sure,” he said.

Inslee went on to call the mill restart an “economic rebirth.” It meant 175 mill workers had a job again.

But the celebration wouldn’t last. Just three months later, the new owners suspended operations.

There’s nothing easy about competing in a global paper market. Now comes word that the 85-year-old mill will be sold off piece-by-piece and the buildings demolished.

Hoquiam Mayor Jack Durney can see the mill’s silent steam stack from his home. It’s a daily reminder that one of his city’s largest employers is no more.

“You see the death of something that’s part of the fabric of our community,” says Durney.

I first visited this mill back in 2007 when I profiled a young David Quigg. He had moved back home to help his family run what was then called Grays Harbor Paper. They had saved the mill after it was closed by a previous owner.

But even back then Quigg admitted the mill was barely squeaking by.”

“It is a battle every day," he said. "But we hope in the end that the good guy wins.”

The next time I met Quigg was in 2011 and he was in tears – literally. His family had just told their 200 plus employees the mill was closing and they would lose their jobs.

“That was real hard cause I put a draft together of what we would say and you know you just do it because it’s work, but then it’s real," said Quigg. "That was hard.”

Now, the cycle of the mill shutting down and reopening only to shut down again has come to an end.

Mayor Durney says personally he’s glad the mill will be torn down.

“I think that will look better to me and to others and the community probably than a hulk that’s dead,” he says.

And he’s confident something new will grow up on this prime riverfront property to take the place of the mill that anchored this community for so many decades.

In a statement, Governor Inslee says: “Many people worked tirelessly to establish a path to success for Harbor Paper and to help Grays Harbor as it struggled with slower economic recovery and higher-than-average unemployment.”

The governor went on to say, “We will continue working together on innovative ways to bring employers and family-wage jobs to every region of our state.”

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