Omak Forest Products will layoff 217 workers

OLYMPIA – The Washington State Department of Employment Security issued a WARN notice that Omak Forest Products was planning on laying off 217 employees on Jan. 29, 2017.

Omak Forest Products purchased Omak Wood Products from the Colville Confederated Tribes in February of this year. The purchase was made shortly after Omak Wood Products announced that it would discontinue operating the Omak mill and lay off 175 workers in early 2016. The Tribe had re-opened the mill in a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by Gov. Jay Inslee in November of 2013,

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) act requires companies with 100 or more employees to notify affected workers 60 days prior to closures and layoffs.

“I want to let you know that we received an official WARN notification yesterday for your area. The local WorkSource office will reach out to the workers to ensure they have information on how to apply for unemployment benefits and to assist them in finding new jobs,” said Chad M. Pearson with the Business Outreach|Communications Office of Employment Security.

Pearson said he was sending the notice as a courtesy, but because of confidentiality requirements, was unable to share any additional information.

The Gazette-Tribune called the general manager of OWF about the upcoming layoffs, but did get a reply before having to go to press.

In a settlement in July of this year PNW Wind Down LLC was ordered to pay an $89,000 penalty for repeatedly violating federal clean air rules while leasing and operating a tribally owned facility on the Colville Reservation in. The facility is a lumber mill that produced plywood veneer from raw timber. The predecessor company was known as Omak Wood Products.

In the settlement the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency alleges that PNW Wind Down LLC exceeded permitted opacity limits during an emissions source test, failed to abide by the terms and conditions of a compliance order that the company agreed to, and did not submit a complete response to an Information Request issued by EPA under the Clean Air Act.

The facility, then owned by the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and leased and operated by Omak Wood Products LLC, the predecessor to PNW Wind Down LLC, re-started in September 2013 after being shut-down for several years. EPA and Colville Tribal Air Quality staff received multiple complaints of heavy smoke and particulate pollution from local residents after the facility resumed operations. Following these complaints, EPA provided several months of extensive technical and compliance assistance to the facility.

The mill, one of Omak’s largest employers over the years, has operated under several owners. J.C. Biles and Nate Coleman were partners who bought a sawmill and timber harvesting rights from the Omak Fruit Growers Inc. in 1921. In 1924, Biles-Coleman built a new sawmill in Omak and in 1971 built a plywood mill. In 1974 the mill was purchased by Crown Zellerbach. British financier Sir James Goldsmith won control of the forest products portion of Crown Zellerbach, which included the Omak mill, in 1985. The mill was operated as part of Cavenham Forest Industries until late 1988 when the union members of Omak Wood Products purchased the mill and 47,000 acres in an employee stock ownership plan. It then ran until 1997 when OWP was purchased by Quality Veneer & Lumber, which later ran into financial trouble. In 2001 the Confederated Colville tribes purchased the Omak operation and operated it as Colville Indian Power and Veneer. They operated the mill until 2009, but were forced to close when the recession hit. In 2013 the Tribe leased the plant to New Wood Resources of Atlas Holdings and then sold it to Omak Forest Products in 2016.

About Gary DeVon

Gary DeVon is the managing editor of the Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune and celebrated his 25th year at the newspaper in August 2012. He graduated from Gonzaga University with a degree in Communications - Print Journalism, with an emphasis in photojournalism. He is a proud alumnus of Oroville High School. His family first settled in Okanogan County in the late 1800s. His parents are Judy DeVon and the late Larry DeVon and he has two younger brothers - Dante and Michael. Many family members still call Oroville home. He has a grown daughter, Segornae Douglas and a young granddaughter, Erin.