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Colville mill reopens after fire

OMAK, Wash. - Eight months after a fire devastated large portions of the Colville Indian Plywood and Veneer facility, the mill has returned to full operation.

The June 29, 2006, fire not only destroyed the log-processing unit and the debarker system; it caused many of the roughly 210 workers to lose their jobs and seek employment elsewhere.

CIPV is part of the Colville Tribal Enterprise Corp., which manages 14 enterprises and employs 1,000 people. Some of the laid-off mill workers were able to be absorbed into other CTEC operations, but for others, it was a long, unwanted vacation and the reopening came as welcome relief.

Employees were recalled in mid-January to work on the plywood lay-up line and green-veneer end. The final crews were recalled by Feb. 5. Approximately 85 percent of the original work force will be returning to work. An additional shift will be added that will add another 30 workers for a work force of about 240.

The damaged equipment has all been removed and replaced with even better, state of the art equipment. Brian Clark, CTEC board chairman, commented, ''It's amazing how our rebuilt factory looks. This place went from total destruction back to a remarkable operation that will be a key part of our Forest Products Division.''

Not only have the rebuilt sections been upgraded, they will also be more efficient and safer. The fire system has been improved to provide a more reliable supply of water, and the fuel storage area has been rebuilt and contained within a fireproof wall. Plant manager Lou Toulou said, ''Our mill will be a safer place to work and some areas will completely change, which will allow us to improve our overall operation.''

Equipment was also purchased from Louisiana Pacific to install a plywood lay-up glue line that will produce less waste and allow a higher-quality product. The purchase is seen as another step in upgrading the entire system.

''We're proud how fast our team got us to where we are today,'' Clark said. ''Especially considering the adverse weather conditions we had back in November and December that only briefly delayed the reopening of the plant.''

Returning speedily to operation was important not only to CTEC, but to its many employees.

''Our priority was getting our people back to work as quickly as possible,'' Toulou said. ''We worked as fast as we could

and now we're on our way.''

Support for the laid-off workers was exceptional. Donations were received from the Kalispel and Swinomish tribes, in addition to the efforts of various other relief groups and local support. Four separate food drives were organized to aid those out of work.

The mill was covered by insurance, and specific dollar amounts are still being discussed. The insurance companies have provided sufficient funds for the demolition work and startup of the mill. Talk is still progressing to process the rest of the claims.

The fire did not damage the main plywood production plant or the powerhouse.