Mill prepares for long-awaited reopening

Private ceremony will be next week

— After years of hope and anticipation, the Omak Wood Products mill is on the verge of peeling logs once again.

The mill at 1100 E. Eighth Ave. will host a private grand opening ceremony at 11 a.m., Oct. 7.

The event is not open to the public. The celebration will be attended by mill employees, officials, community leaders and Gov. Jay Inslee.

“Our new employees and local contractors have been working hard to get the mill ready to peel logs and put more people to work,” mill spokesman Paul Queary said. “We anticipate celebrating the start of production early next week.”

Mill officials expect to have about 100 employees by the end of the year.

“This is great news for Omak and hundreds of working families who will soon be back to work at the mill,” Inslee said. “A thriving economy isn’t just about what’s happening in the shadow of the Space Needle, but in the mills and on the manufacturing lines throughout our state. I’m looking forward to visiting Omak and celebrating the long-awaited reopening.”

The reopening will mark the culmination of several years worth of negotiations between Wood Resources — the parent company of Omak Wood Products — and the Colville tribes.

In March, Wood Resources officials signed a 25-year lease agreement with Colville Federal Tribal Corp. to operate the mill. The agreement involves a 10-year initial lease, followed by three five-year extensions.

The two parties also signed a log supply agreement, where Colville Tribal Federal Corp. will sell up to 40 million board feet of timber to Wood Resources.

Cleanup efforts to restore the idle mill began in the summer.

As of the beginning of September, about 50 people were employed by the mill.

That number is expected to double by the end of the year, with more than 200 jobs eventually slated when the mill hits full capacity, Queary said.

“A lot of these jobs require pretty specific skills,” Queary said.

The initial part that will open will be the veneer operation. Operators are still in the process of reconditioning the plywood side of the mill, Queary said.

The mill had been shut down since Jan. 16, 2009, when it had been operated by Colville Federal Tribal Corp. as Colville Indian Plywood and Veneer.

At the time, the housing market crash led to a drop in plywood prices.

Approximately 230 employees were laid off.

Wood Resources, which also owns and operates the Olympic Panel Products plywood mill in Shelton, began negotiations with the tribe not long after its closure.

The plywood mill has been a major part of Okanogan County’s economy for nearly 100 years. It first opened in 1921.

Ownership has changed hands several times in its history and the companies have been constantly riding the highs and lows of economic booms and busts.

During the plywood mill’s peak operating years, it employed more than 1,200 workers.

The Colville Confederated Tribes purchased the mill in January 2002 for $5.8 million — two years after its previous owner, Quality Veneer and Lumber, had gone bankrupt.

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