PenPly's Wild Ride Ends in Fatal Crash
January 13, 2012 | 1:19 pm CST
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PenPly's Wild Ride Ends in Fatal CrashFor more than two years I have followed the successes and setbacks of Peninsula Plywood with great interest and anticipation.

But it looks like I won’t have cause to do so any longer.

Out of money and out of time, the Port Angeles, WA, Port Authority recently announced it will tear down the 70-year-old plywood mill and convert its 19 acres of land to develop marine trade businesses. This is according to the Peninsula Daily Times, which along with radio station KONP have been my sources to follow the twists and turns of the company’s constantly changing fortunes.

A Tale of Hope and Despair
PenPly’s story began with great fanfare. Its new owners, with considerable moral and financial support of the port authority, City of Port Angeles and state representative, would reopen a plywood plant that had been dormant for more than two years and create more than 150 jobs. 

Talk about an ominous start. The day after the plant reopened on March 1, 2010, it experienced a small fire that temporarily halted production. That incident proved to foreshadow a much more serious fire three months later that destroyed the mill’s boiler and boiler control room.

Lost production and sales, plus costly repairs, left the company financially vulnerable. Over the next 18 months until it closed, PenPly ran up more than $300,000 in unpaid utility bills and was more than $80,000 behind in its rent to the city. But while the company struggled, it was given a reprieve via the infusion of a $500,000 state grant last July. Ironically the company laid-off 50 workers after receiving the grant only to announce hiring 30 workers in July and doubling production.

But that “feel good” boom proved short-lived as city officials put pressure on PenPly to make good on its utility and rent debts. When it could not, the company was forced to vacate the plant. It was given 14 days to find a new investor, but without success.

Now the stage is set for PenPly’s final scene: Its demolition.

I conclude with a summary of the 14 articles posted between August 2009 and December 2011 that reads like a timeline of PenPly’s rise and fall.

August 2009: Ex-K Plant to Reopen

The K-Ply plywood mill that closed nearly two years ago will reopen under new ownership. According to KONP News, the mill will resume operations within three months as Peninsula Plywood, the original name of the 68-year-old plant. At least 60 full-time workers will be hired. Nearly 150 people lost their jobs when the plant shut down in November 2007.

February 2010: PenPly Mill Set to Reopen

PenPly was scheduled to begin producing plywood on Monday, March 1, at a mill shut down for nearly two years. According to KONP, the mill will restart with 72 employees and hopes to ultimately employ 124 people and produce 32 million surface feet of plywood this year.

March 2010: Faulty Motor Blamed for PenPly Mill Fire

The small fire that broke out at the newly reopened Peninsula Plywood mill on March 2 was caused by a malfunction in a large industrial ventilation motor above one of the dryers, according to Port Angeles fire officials. The plant reopened on March 1. According to the Peninsula Daily News, the fire was suppressed by the mill’s sprinkler system and caused only slight damage to the roof. The plywood mill was back in production the next day.

April 2010: PenPly Mill Gets Rebate for Energy Efficiency

Officials from Peninsula Plywood and the city of Port Angeles recently presented a ceremonial check for $51,348 to Olympic Electric as a rebate for energy improvements to the Port Angeles plywood mill. According to the Peninsula Daily News, the rebate reduced the cost for PenPly to replace 278 incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient fixtures before the mill reopened March 1. In total, replacement of the old lights cost about $73,000.

May 2010: PenPly Receives Temporary Boiler

Fire-stricken Peninsula Plywood received a temporary boiler, as the plywood maker strove to get production going again as soon as possible.

May 2010: PenPly Back in Action after Fire

Peninsula Plywood is back in full production mode following a May 15 fire that destroyed its boiler control room last week, according to an account by KONP. 

July 2010: PenPly Thanks State Representative

Peninsula Plywood thanked 24th District Rep. Kevin Van de Wege for his help in obtaining state financial aid for reopening the mill. According to KONP, Van de Wege was presented with the first 4-foot by 8-foot plywood panel made by the mill. It was autographed by most of the mill's employees. Penply reportedly employs 153 people; the company hopes to hire another 25 in the near future.

October 2010: PenPly Lays Off 35 Workers

Peninsula Plywood has laid-off 35 workers, approximately a quarter of its work force. According to the Peninsula Daily News, the company claimed the lay-offs were necessitated by a weak economy and productivity improvements.

June 2011: PenPly Gets $500,000 Aid from City

Peninsula Plywood (PenPly), struggling to pay its bills, is getting a helping hand from the City of Port Angeles. On Tuesday, Port Angeles city councilmen voted to back a $500,000 grant application being submitted by PenPly to the Washington Department of Commerce.

June 2011: PenPly Temporarily Lays Off 50 Workers

Peninsula Plywood (PenPly) sent 50 of its 115 workers home Tuesday, saying that it lacked enough veneer to make plywood. The action, which affected one shift of the financially troubled operation, came the same day that the Port Angeles City Council agreed to seek a $500,000 grant to help keep the PenPly mill open, according to the Peninsula Daily News. PenPly President Josh Renshaw told the newspaper that the furlough would only last a few days.

June 2011: PenPly Moves Forward on Grant Funding

Cash-strapped Peninsula Plywood (PenPly) is in line to receive $212,500 from the state Department of Commerce to help it keep its doors open. To secure the funds, the company's investors will be required to raise $230,000, according to the Peninsula Daily News. The company reportedly sent a letter to the city stating it would provide those funds.

July 2011: PenPly Hires 30, Doubles Production

Peninsula Plywood, buoyed by financial aid approved by the Port Angeles City Council, has hired some 30 workers and more than doubled production from a reported 1.3 million feet to 3 million feet.

October 2011: PenPly Delinquent on $280,000 in Utility Bills

Peninsula Plywood (PenPly) is past-due on paying the City of Port Angeles nearly $280,000 on its utility bills. The Port Angeles City Council is in a quandary as to whether or not to waive approximately $15,000 in late payment fees, according to The Peninsula Daily News. The newspaper quoted Mayor Dan Di Guillo as opposing forgiving the fees because the city has "bent over backwards" for PenPly.

November 2011: Struggling PenPly Mill Closed

Peninsula Plywood (PenPly), a company that has battled against stubborn economic forces, closed last week, with hopes of one day reopening again. The company's final 15 workers were furloughed last week, according to the Peninsula Daily News. The company had employed 130 people in July but has struggled to develop sufficient revenues to meet its expenses.

December 2011: Beleaguered PenPly Owners Vacate Plant

Peninsula Plywood (PenPly), which has had numerous highs and lows since reopening in March 2010, is closed pending finding a new owner.The mill's owners recently signed an agreement with the Port of Port Angeles to vacate the site after failing to meet its rent and utility bills, according to the Peninsula Daily News.


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