OREGON (From news reports) -- Georgia-Pacific Wood Products notified employees at its Coos Bay lumber mill Thursday that it will close the facility and lay off all of the site's 111 workers.
"It is an absolutely terrible thing to have to do," said Rick Kimble, a Georgia-Pacific spokesperson. "At the same time you can't keep operating if you're losing money at the site."
The Atlanta-based pulp and paper company said Asian competition for Oregon logs made it more expensive to supply the Coos Bay mill. And Georgia-Pacific said the prolonged closure of Coos Bay's swing span railroad bridge made it more difficult to ship products from the site.
The 100-year-old bridge has been closed for more than a year and plans to reopen the structure have been repeatedly delayed. Kimble said 70 percent of mill's products went by rail and the bridge closure was adding significantly to operating costs.
"That makes a big difference when you have to truck it over to an offload facility and then put it back on rail," he said.
While there are other railways serving the community, economic development officials said the bridge's closure was affecting shippers throughout the community and neighboring counties.
John Burns is chief executive of the Port of Coos Bay, which owns the bridge and has overseen the repairs. He said the port has spent $3.5 million so far to get the bridge back in operation and expects to have it back open within the next two weeks.
"It's a little bit unfortunate that they couldn't wait for that," Burns said. He said the port expects to spend another $9 million over the next year on upgrades to ensure the bridge remains operational.
Georgia-Pacific's Coos Bay facility opened in 1994. It produces dimensional lumber -- 2x4s, 2x6s and similar products.
Georgia-Pacific's western lumber general manager, Bill Goodman, wrote to state officials Thursday to notify them of the pending layoffs. He said the job cuts will begin June 10 and continue in phases until the Coos Bay facility is completely closed. He said employees, most of whom are union members, "will be paid all earned wages and agreed upon benefits."
While Oregon is enjoying historically low unemployment of 4.4%, some industries and regions are still working to recover from the Great Recession.
For example, Coos County's nonfarm employment remains 4% below levels before the start of the recession, and manufacturing is 110 jobs below its peak, according to a recent analysis from the Oregon Employment Department.
Wood products manufacturing in Coos Bay is 100 jobs above its pre-recession levels. The pending Georgia-Pacific layoffs could reverse that, but Burns said he's optimistic another employer will move onto the mill site - though he said he doesn't know who.
"From what I'm hearing," he said, "there are other suitors that are interested in taking over that facility.
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