Saturday, April 30, 2011 - 01:07
BY STEVEN FRIEDERICH
The Daily World
Continuous pulp is expected to be produced at the Cosmopolis pulp mill this weekend for the first time since it was mothballed more than four years ago.
Cosmo Specialty Fibers expects to meet its long-ago set opening date of May 1, this Sunday.
Spokesman Bob Buchan says the plant is currently producing batches of pulp, which gets stopped and checked for quality on a continual basis. The goal is to craft a continuous flow of pulp.
"And we're on target for that to happen this weekend," Buchan said. "Since we're going 24-7, it could be anytime Saturday, Sunday, early Monday. It could happen at 2 a.m. or in the afternoon, we don't know."
Instead of celebrating this weekend, the company says it will conduct a public grand opening set for 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 21.
Cosmopolis Mayor Vickie Raines says she's excited to emcee the grand opening, which will feature the company's owners as well as political figures. Gov. Chris Gregoire is expected to be at the event.
"This has been a long time coming for us," Raines said.
Cosmo Specialty Fibers purchased the mill from Weyerhaeuser last fall. The company is owned by a California private equity firm.
The mill had been mothballed since Weyerhaeuser closed it and laid off a couple hundred employees in October of 2006. Cosmo Specialty Fibers now has about 130 hourly employees and 20 employees on the administrative end. Most of the employees hail from a 60-mile radius.
At this point, Buchan says the company just needs to fill a few lab workers and other engineers.
"Our employees are working long hours and have just dedicated themselves to getting this mill back up and running," Buchan said.
Mill Manager Jim Smith also announced that the company had exceeded 100 days of safety with no employee injuries.
Buchan says the mill has partnered up with Sierra Pacific's mill at Junction City to get its leftover wood chips. And the mill recently teamed up with Grays Harbor Paper to send over unused batches of pulp to be recycled.
"We're all in this together," Buchan said.
The Cosmopolis mill's power house is online and is using hog fuel to generate its own power using rewound biomass turbines.
About the only mystery left with the power generation is just how "green" is the energy and who's going to buy it.
Buchan says the company wants to sell the power to someone in Washington state that could use it as a "green credit." However, the Legislature has yet to clarify if the energy the mill produces would qualify. And legislation Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, helped push through approval in the state Senate this month never made it out of the state House.
It's unclear if the measure will receive approval during the special session.
Hatfield says if he were an oddsmaker he'd put it at about a one in four chance that the legislation would get approval this session, noting the measure did get referenced in the Senate's operating budget.
"There's just resistance in the House, which has representatives that don't want to change the way clean energy is interpreted," Hatfield said. "And yet legislation should evolve and change with the times. At this point, there's even a proposed solar energy farm at Cle Elum that is having difficulties getting recognized for its clean energy, which really says something."
But Buchan is hopeful.
"If he makes progress on that then it clears up some of the situation here for us in Washington, other than that, we will have to sell the energy somewhere else," he said