Mapleton sawmill will shut down.
MAPLETON - The last remaining Mapleton-area sawmill will close this spring rather than change the way it floats logs in the Siuslaw River to suit environmental regulators.
The closure of the Davidson Industries mill means that the unincorporated community will lose 60-plus jobs as well as a family-owned firm that was generous to schools.
Fears of Davidson's closure have been alive for years in Mapleton, 15 miles upriver from Florence. Still, the Davidson family kept the mill - the community's largest employer - going on a reduced schedule and took weeks-long breaks, including over the past Christmas holiday.
But on Monday, the family distributed a memo to workers saying the doors would close in March or April - or at least no later than June 1.
"It's a pretty darn painful experience," said Philip Davidson, heir to the nearly 50-year-old business. "We all work here."
The company blamed the closure on costly fixes required by the state Department of Environmental Quality.
At issue is the company's practice of dropping its logs into the Siuslaw River, storing some in the river, and then using a tug boat to float them three miles down river to its mill.
Floating logs is a primal practice in forestry - giving birth to the vanishing art of log rolling. Fifty years ago, "logs in the water were not a novelty," said Paul Ehinger, a wood products analyst based in Eugene.
Most companies found trucking is easier and more efficient, Ehinger said. But not Davidson. "They historically ran with their inventory in the river and that's the way the company was put together. They always had logs in the river," he said.
In 1979, the state's Environmental Quality Commission ruled that companies that wanted to keep handling logs in the state's rivers would have to get a permit under the federal Clean Water Act.
Dropping or shoving logs into the river stirs up the water. Also, the floating logs bump together and their bark falls into the river bed, covering fish spawning grounds, said Bill Perry a DEQ environmental specialist.
Twenty years after the requirement took effect, the agency noticed the Davidson mill had not obtained a permit - and told the company it would have to comply. The company responded that the disruption would force it to shut down.
The agency and Davidson worked out an agreement that allowed the mill to continue operating, with the stipulation that by June 2004, Davidson would install an "easy let down" device for placing logs in the water, establish a way to bundle the logs so they didn't bump into each other, and hire a diver to survey the extent of bark accumulation on the river bed and draft a plan to clean it up.
In exchange, the agency waived all penalties for noncompliance.
Perry said he had no estimate of how much the work would cost the company. He said a standard crane might have been able to put the logs in the water. "It's not exotic, but it's definitely a capital expenditure," he said.
Last November, the company asked the agency for a four-month extension to take advantage of the 2004 summer's harvest season and to celebrate the mill's 50th year of existence on Sept. 1.
"This obviously would be a milestone for us to commemorate," Don-Lee Davidson wrote to the agency, adding: "You have to do what you have to do!!"
Davidson did not notify the DEQ that it would close early, Perry said. The agency was processing the company's extension request. "I believe it would have been approved," he said.
Ehinger, the analyst, said an accumulation of factors probably led to the closure, with the permit problem being the coup de grace.
"The Davidson family had a loyalty to the people up there that surpassed, sometimes, good common economic sense," he said. "But they wanted to keep the people working, especially the old-timers. It's the kind of loyalty you don't see too much anymore."
Now the Mapleton School District, with 53 employees, will be the area's largest employer.
The handful of surviving businesses - a gas station, market and cafe - have all survived mill closures and live off the highway trade, especially in the summer time.
Only a few mill workers ate at the Gingerbread Village Restaurant, said employee Clifford Moore.
Mill workers spend a few dollars at Woodall's Super Service station so they can make it to Florence to get a less-expensive tankful, said Woodall's manager Laura Losacco.
She survives on summer tourists, but doesn't earn enough to hire help, so she works seven days a week. "The station here in the last year has been very slow," she said. "We've had record lows this year. I haven't had a customer for an hour. We'll be a ghost town, maybe."
At the Mapleton Area Family Services, coordinator Annie Savage has already noticed an increased demand for food boxes and gas vouchers. Some employees must have believed the closure was coming, she said.
The news was no surprise to Mapleton old timers. Closures were common for a couple decades as firms such as Champion International and Murphy Lumber closed their plants.
"Hardly anybody is deluded into thinking they can work in the woods anymore," Savage said. "People are thinking more along the lines of when is the casino going to get here?"
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|Title Annotation:||Business; Davidson Industries decides it can't afford to make the changes demanded by a state environmental agency|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Feb 5, 2004|
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