It’s been more than three months since the owners of Harbor Paper announced a temporary closure to restructure management, and still many Grays Harbor residents aren’t sure if or when the mill will resume operation. And those who do know about the company’s operations are keeping mum.
Local elected officials and state legislators are hopeful about the mill’s future, but they seem to know about as much as the average Harborite — which isn’t much. Many of the mill’s workers, who are still employed by Harbor Paper, are frustrated by the mill’s status and unsure whether to find new jobs.
The workers were given a glimmer of hope in early March when Elliott Rust Holdings, the company that owns Harbor Paper, released a statement that the mill would be back to work “shortly” under the leadership of new President Joe Scolari, son of Elliott Rust Holdings owner Cesar Scolari.
“Armed with a refined business model, streamlined operations, and stronger alliances, Harbor Paper is prepared to begin anew,” the statement read.
But the re-opening hasn’t happened.
On April 14, Elliott Rust Holdings sent out a statement saying they would delay a mill restart. On May 13, KXRO Newsradio reported that Harbor Paper employees recieved an email May 10 thanking them for their continued support and confirming that there still wasn’t a start-up date for the mill.
In mid-May, the company built a fence across the entrance of the mill, prompting questions about the mill’s future. Lisa Tener, a spokeswoman for Elliott Rust Holdings, said the fence is in no way a symbol of the mill’s demise.
“We purely put the fence up for additional security,” Tener said. “It’s not symbolic of anything. It’s just up for extra security.”
On May 24, Tener said Elliott Rust Holdings would soon release a statement about Harbor Paper’s future. Two weeks later, the company still hasn’t released a statement. Tener said the company will probably have an announcement sometime next week.
Greater Grays Harbor CEO Tim Gibbs said he was been working with Harbor Paper officials on changes for the company, but he declined comment about any projects that may be in the works.
“There have definitely been some things going on, but I need to respect their privacy and not comment,” Gibbs said.
The Daily World made several calls to Harbor Paper’s offices between May 22 and June 7, but none of the calls were returned.
The mill had previously been run by Grays Harbor Paper, which stopped producing paper in May of 2011. About 200 people were laid off. The company was millions of dollars in debt, and Grays Harbor Superior Court assigned a receiver to sell the assets and earn as much money as possible for those who were still owed.
In August of 2012, Judge Gordon Godfrey approved the mill’s sale to Harbor Paper for $3.66 million.
The sale was largely orchestrated by John Begley, who served as CEO of Grays Harbor Paper from June of 2009 through November of 2010.
Harbor Paper celebrated its grand opening in October of 2012, with former Gov. Chris Gregoire, Congressman Norm Dicks, state Sen. Jim Hargrove and Gov. Jay Inslee, then a former congressman, in attendance. Begley served as the company’s president until he was let go earlier this year during the restructuring.