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'Unforeseeable events' led to reduction in pulp, forcing city's only industrial business to close

TIDINGS FILE PHOTO - A staple of West Linn's business community for 128 years, the West Linn Paper Company will shut its doors after unexpected events led to a reduction in pulp supply.West Linn Paper Company, the city's sole industrial business and a staple of the community for 128 years, is shutting its doors.

The company announced Monday, Oct. 16, in a press release that is ceasing operations and "will commence a winding up of its business" on a timetable that has yet to be specified.

In 2016, the company said it had 250 employees.

"We are deeply disappointed to end the mill's 128-year history, the last 20 of which resulted from a major restructuring and restart when our current ownership took control of West Linn Paper Company," Chief Operating Officer Brian Konen said in a statement. "The commitment and support that we received from our employees, our lenders and our owners as we sought to adapt to structural changes in our markets has been remarkable. However, several unforeseeable events have led to a significant reduction in available pulp, making continued operations impossible."

Konen added that the company will begin winding down its operations immediately. Orders for stock products will still be accepted as the company shuts operations down, and orders that have been produced but not yet shipped will also be honored according to the release. Manufacturing orders that have been produced but not shipped will be reviewed and customers will be notified of their status. No new manufacturing orders will be accepted.

West Linn Paper representatives said they could not comment further at this time.

In a statement released by the City Wednesday, West Linn Mayor Russ Axelrod expressed sadness about the news.

"The West Linn Paper Company has been a mainstay in the city and I am deeply saddened the company is closing," Axelrod said. "My sympathies are with the employees of the company and their families. The City will work with the West Linn Paper Company to lessen any hardships in any way possible.

Siobhan Taylor, executive director of the Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition, said West Linn Paper has been an important partner in the coalition's efforts to create a National Heritage Area around the falls.

"I heard the news with tremendous regret and sadness for the mill employees, their families and our communities," Taylor said in an email. "This is 250 family wage jobs that are now going to disappear.

"The story of the mill is the story of industry at the falls. It is an integral part of the heritage story we are interpreting. We will work with them, and all our heritage partners, to help preserve and intepret that part of our story."

The mill first opened under the name "Willamette Pulp and Paper" in 1889. It went through several name changes over the years, and also closed for a short period in 1996 before reopening under new ownership as West Linn Paper Company in 1997.

In recent years the company specialized in coated free-sheet web paper, and was known as the only mill on the West coast with that particular focus. Coated free-sheet paper is most commonly used for high-end advertising materials, direct mail, magazines and catalogs. In 2016, Konen said West Linn Paper occupied just under 40 percent of the market for free-sheet paper on the West coast.

West Linn Paper also played a key role in the City's ongoing efforts to plan redevelopment on the waterfront, which began in 2013. How the company's departure will affect those plans remains to be seen, and West Linn project consultant John Morgan said City representatives would meet in the days following the announcement to discuss how to move forward.

PHOTO COURTESY OF CLACKAMAS HISTORICAL SOCIETY - The mill as seen in 1896, when it was known as the Crown Paper Mill.

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