Talks fail in attempt to revive closed Weyerhaeuser sawmill

The Associated Press /

DALLAS — A former Weyerhaeuser sawmill in a county that a state economist calls a “poster child” for the decline of the wood products industry is being dismantled, extinguishing faint hopes that somebody would revive it.

Talks with several groups interested in running a mill didn’t result in a deal to reopen the plant closed in 2009 in the Polk County seat, Dallas, the Salem Statesman Journal reported.

“We didn’t get any traction with that, and I guess it’s not a huge surprise,” said Richard Wayper, vice president of marketing with Northwest Demolition and Dismantling.

The company bought the 66-acre site at an August auction for about $1.4 million. It has hired an auctioneer to take bids on equipment until Christmas and expects that by the first quarter of 2013, most of it will be removed.

The company plans to tear down some of the structures but hopes to find commercial or industrial users for structures in better condition.

A decade ago, about 34,000 Oregonians statewide worked in wood products manufacturing plants. That has shrunk by more than 40 percent, to about 19,840.

Pat O’Connor, a state regional economist, said Polk County had 1,500 mill jobs in the 1970s. That number dropped to 400 by 2001 and is now fewer than 60.

Wages have taken a hit as well, dropping from an inflation-adjusted average of $65,000 a year in the 1970s to about $36,450 now, O’Connor said.

Restrictions to protect endangered species have placed large tracts of federal timber lands off limits to loggers.

O’Connor said factory automation might have played a larger part in job losses than rules to save spotted owls and marbled murrelets.

A mill in Lebanon, for example, now produces the same amount of lumber with 140 fewer workers, he said.

Jim Geisinger, executive vice president of Associated Oregon Loggers in Salem, said blaming job losses on automation is a “red herring.”

“Without the timber supply, we can’t sustain any jobs,” Geisinger said.

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