Mill’s water, power shut off after bills go unpaid

Harbor Paper, the troubled Hoquiam paper mill, has been without water since Sept. 17, and as of Monday, it’ll be without electricity. The City of Hoquiam shut off water to the mill after the company failed to pay bills, and Grays Harbor PUD will soon do the same with power.

Lisa Tener, a spokeswoman for the mill’s parent company, Elliott Rust Holdings, said Friday that the company is still working on a solution to open the mill. She had no comment regarding the power and water shutoffs.

“The best thing I can say right now is that we’re working on a solution,” Tener said. “We should have more news soon.”

Grays Harbor PUD Manager Dave Ward said utility officials decided to shut off power after the mill missed its weekly debt payment Sept. 13. Harbor Paper currently owes $580,643 in past-due power bills, and had been making $20,000 payments each Friday, in addition to paying current power bills, which average about $60,000 per month.

Ward said a large portion of the debt was racked up in January and February when the mill was operating at full-force and PUD bills averaged $250,000 per month.

“I’m trying to look out for the interests of our ratepayers,” Ward said. “That’s the priority.”

“But it would be so nice if something could come out of the blue and get them running again,” he added.

Harbor Paper officials called the PUD last week to let them know the company couldn’t make the payment, Ward said. And since then, the PUD has been working with the mill on an orderly power shutdown in order to avoid damaging machinery.

Hoquiam Finanace Director Mike Folkers said Harbor Paper owes the city about $67,000 in water bills. Hoquiam supplies only drinking and sanitary water to the mill, while the City of Aberdeen provides industrial water.

“We don’t typically shut off service for commercial operations if we can help it, but their bill just got too high,” Folkers said. “We decided that it would be in the best interest of the taxpayers to shut it off. In this case, it’s just been silent. We haven’t been hearing anything, so we can’t keep the water going.”

In addition to being behind on power and water, Harbor Paper owes about $94,000 in taxes to Grays Harbor County, the City of Hoquiam, the Hoquiam School District and the state. County Treasurer Ron Strabbing said the county is likely to take action against the mill sometime this year. The mill has been inactive since Feb. 25 when Harbor Paper shut down, citing a “wholesale management change.” Harbor Paper officials announced March 5 that they would be resuming operations in the near future. The restart never happened.

In July, WorkSource Grays Harbor held a meeting for former mill employees, and Administrator Ron Schmidt advised the workers to treat no news as bad news and look for new jobs.

“There’s been no communication from the mill, so we are going off the premise that the mill is closed,” Schmidt said.

Some Harbor Paper employees will soon be able to receive job retraining and relocation benefits under the federal Trade Act. WorkSource Administrator Mike Michener said workers should watch their mailboxes for more information, and WorkSource will hold an informational meeting soon.