Reedsport manufacturing closure to leave 51 without employment

Christian Hill / The (Eugene) Register-Guard /

REEDSPORT — After a decade of operation, American Bridge will close its Reedsport manufacturing plant and lay off its remaining 51 employees in December.

The news is a blow to the Oregon Coast community, located in a county with one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.

“We’ve seen this before with the International Paper property (closure in 1999) and other employers on the South Coast ... so it’s another kick to the ribs,” Reedsport Mayor Keith Tymchuk said.

But Tymchuk said the community’s focus has been on “‘how do we move forward,’ rather than ‘Oh, woe is me.’”

The mayor said local and regional leaders have pledged to work with American Bridge to market the property and find another employer.

Several employees were laid off Monday, said Susan Buell, president of Umpqua Training and Employment in Roseburg, a private nonprofit group that is mobilizing to help retrain the displaced workers.

Other employees will be able to stay on the job until projects in the pipeline are completed.

Buell agreed the pending closure is another economic setback for the community.

“They haven’t had great news,” she said.

The Pennsylvania-based company made the disclosure on Tuesday in a federally required notice that provides employees advance word of mass layoffs.

Phone calls to the plant Tuesday were not answered.

American Bridge Manufacturing, a subsidiary of American Bridge, also operates another plant in Coraopolis, Pa. Tymchuk said company officials told him that plant also will close.

When the company broke ground on the Oregon plant in 2002, it was front-page news and an economic shot in the arm for a community that three years earlier had lost 400 jobs with the closure of a paper mill.

The company saw the Reedsport plant as providing it a better edge in competing for smaller projects in the West. American Bridge pledged to deliver 120 jobs by 2005 and received a five-year property tax exemption valued at $750,000.

The following year, the company was hit hard by the abrupt closure of the rail line connecting the coast to the Williamette Valley, a crucial link for moving its steel components.

The plant manager at the time said the company’s workforce dropped from about 100 to 10.

The rail line reopened in 2011. But the local plant never recovered.

Its parent company led the joint venture that is building the new $1.7 billion eastern span of the Bay Bridge, connecting Oakland and San Francisco. The new span opened to traffic last month, after 24 years of planning and construction.

The warn notice indicated the layoffs would begin Dec. 9 and last several weeks.

The employees are not represented by a union.

Last month, the state Department of Environmental Quality levied fines totaling about $11,500 against the Reedsport plant, alleging the improper handling of hazardous waste. The fine is being appealed.

A DEQ representative said the agency would carry on with the appeal.