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Damage from weekend freeze causes shutdown of IPs Georgetown, S.C. mill

GEORGETOWN, S.C. (From news reports) -- What is being described as a "perfect storm of events" has resulted in the unexpected shutdown of International Paper Company's Georgetown mill - and the Christmas weekend freeze is to blame.

The problems began Friday, according to information from the mill's union.

A tube in a power boiler blew Friday night, a post on IP Union Facebook page. "The water swung on the other boiler causing it to trip."

With the boilers out of service, the public noticed no steam was coming from the steam stacks at the top of the mill.

"We were able to recover from that but only had one turbine running and two recovery boilers," the post states. Then, one of the recovery boilers tripped.

Because IP was unable to generate enough power in its internal power plant, they began to rely on Santee Cooper for power.

However, because of the hard freeze, Santee Cooper was having trouble meeting the demand for electricity systemwide so it could not provide the amount of electricity needed for IP.

A company official said Santee Cooper notified the company of the situation but there was not enough time to get the company's power-making back up and running.

With no power, and below-freezing temperatures, the black liquor inside pumps, tanks, and lines "froze solid," the post states.

"Once black liquor solidifies, it does not thaw out. It turns into black concrete. We have two tanks on the third floor of the recoveries that you can see in," the post states. "It's a big block of solid liquor."

Electricity was restored on Christmas Day which, the post states, was the easy part.

"Getting everything unplugged to start making pulp...That is going to take weeks. We are in serious trouble and it is going to be bad," the post states, adding it "will cost this company millions" to recover from the damage.

Company spokesman Josh Fleming said Monday is too soon to know the accuracy of the predictions made by the union.

He told us nothing he has seen so far indicates it will take weeks to recover. He did say the fact paper is not being made is costing the company a lot of money, but he does not have an estimate on how much money is being lost.

He said unlike the paper mills located in the northern states, Georgetown's mill is not designed for the temperatures we experienced over the weekend because such weather is so rare in this part of the country.
Fleming said the company is in the process of getting boilers restarted, so the steam from the stacks should be seen again "sooner rather than later."

Fleming said, as of this posting, no layoffs are expected due to the damage.

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