Vancouver investor tries to reopen West Linn paper mill

By: Mike Rogoway - The Oregonian/OregonLive

Vancouver investor tries to reopen West Linn paper mill
Trimming the inferior grade paper that will be recycled back into production.

Efforts are under way to reopen the 130-year-old West Linn Paper mill, nearly two years after it closed and cast out 250 millworkers. The revival effort is being led by Clark County investor Ken Peterson, whose portfolio includes a pulp mill in Dayton, a Texas housing development, an augmented reality startup in Vancouver and telecom companies around the world.

“Their intention is to restart it”, said Dave Robertson, vice president for public policy at Portland General Electric, which owns the land and buildings on the site. While Robertson said PGE is continuing to work with West Linn on long-range redevelopment plans for the property overlooking the Willamette River, he said the utility has a five-year deal to lease the site to a newly formed company associated with Columbia Ventures Corp., Peterson’s investment firm. Options could extend the lease for a decade beyond that.

Columbia Ventures is working with former West Linn Paper chief operating officer Brian Konen on the effort. Konen referred questions Friday to Peterson, who did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

Clackamas County and Oregon economic development officials did not immediately respond to inquiries about whether efforts to restart the mill will receive any public incentives.

Peterson has done this kind of thing before. In 1987 he bought the shuttered aluminum smelter in Goldendale, Washington, and reopened it. Peterson sold that business in 1996 – four years before soaring electricity prices wiped out the Northwest’s aluminum industry.

Columbia Ventures invests in “a wide range of strategic, innovative or contrarian opportunities”.

Forest products, once Oregon’s leading industry, has been in decline for 40 years. The state’s timber harvest has fallen by more than half since the 1970s and total employment in the sector has dwindled more than 80,000 in 1978 to around 24,000 now.

The Blue Heron paper mill in Oregon City, which closed in 2011, is in the process of being sold to the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. But the tribes have given no indication they plan to reopen that facility, neighbor to the West Linn mill, they have access to their historical fishing grounds and are interested in commercial development on the site.

When West Linn Paper closed in 2017, the company operating the mill said a major pulp supplier had suddenly stopped production because of an equipment failure.

Originally Willamette Falls Pulp and Paper Co. and later owned by Crown Zellerbach, the mill opened in 1889 and once employed 1,600. It made newsprint, wrapping paper and paper bags. It helped sustain publishing across the Northwest while also supplying paper for outlets around the country.

West Linn and PGE are continuing to work on long-range redevelopment plans for the site, which neighbors a hydroelectric project and has significant environmental contamination. The city hosted a public redevelopment meeting, but any firm plans may be years away.

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