BAILEYVILLE — Bad weather and poor market conditions are being blamed for yet another shutdown at Georgia-Pacific Corp.’s oriented strand board plant. The closing, which will idle all 70 employees, is expected to last four months.
Although there were grim faces at G-P’s administrative offices Tuesday, Lee Bingham, vice president of Maine operations, said he expects market conditions to return to normal in the spring.
“We are not able to procure enough hardwood at prices that would justify running [the plant] this winter,” Bingham said. He said company officials had decided to shut down now in order to build wood inventories in anticipation of the spring building market.
Ice and snow have blanketed the area during the past few weeks, and Bingham said logging conditions have been abysmal this year.
“Not too far north of here they are reporting 3 to 5 feet of snow, and in our area, more than 2 feet of snow. But the ice situation has complicated matters. We are not getting good productivity out of our contractors, so we are having to go further and further for wood. We just can’t justify doing that,” he said.
Bingham said the wood suppliers were eager to get their product to the plant, but much of it is sitting in the woods.
“The wood is cut. They just can’t get it out,” he said. “They tell stories about the Monday after the ice storm that when they started hauling, they had to go get their feller-bunchers [wood harvesting quipment] on snow machines to clear the roads. That was the only safe way to get the trees down,” Bingham said. “So you can imagine how much clearing they have had to do on their logging roads.”
Reaction around town was swift as news of the four-month shutdown spread. Baileyville Town Council Chairman Doug Jones said he was disappointed at news of the latest shutdown.
“But I think it is going to work out with less downtime over the rest of the year. That part of it is good news. But it isn’t very good news that 70 people are getting laid off,” he said.
G-P will not provide pay or benefits while the plant is closed, but U.S. Sen. Susan Collins pledged to help the displaced workers. “I hope employees will contact my Bangor office with any questions they may have about how to get in touch with the appropriate agencies that are in place to help them get through this difficult time,” the senator said in a prepared statement.
Last year, the plant had four shutdowns, the last in November. That shutdown was blamed on an insufficient supply of the poplar the mill uses to make composite board for the building industry.
G-P’s strand board is sold primarily in New England. Although company officials are not enthused about market conditions, they are cautiously optimistic.
“We are entering 1998 with a far better market than we had last year. That means that when we start up we will have a pretty good shot at running through the year,” Bingham said.
Georgia-Pacific is Washington County’s largest private employer. In addition to the OSB facility, the company operates a pulp and paper plant and a chip-n-saw mill, which makes wood studs. Together, the three facilities employ about 900 people.