PORT ANGELES, Washington (From news reports) -- McKinley Paper Company is expected to be running at full capacity at the former Nippon Paper Industries USA plant in March, three years after operations ceased at the 100-year-old Ediz Hook mill.
That's what applicants are being told who have been vying for the 150 jobs that the New Mexico-based company is filling, a representative of the agency referring applicants to McKinley said Tuesday.
"The only thing I've been told is March for full operations," said Patrice Varela-Daylow, a business services specialist with WorkSource of Clallam and Jefferson counties.
Varela-Daylow said about 120 of the available jobs have been filled by McKinley, the American subsidiary of Mexican-owned Bio Pappel.
"They've been getting the machines cleaned up and doing whatever renovations they do over there," Varela-Daylow said.
Mill Manager Henry Smedley, former manager of engineering at Port Townsend Paper Corp., and Peter Johnson, McKinley's human resources manager, did not respond to repeated requests for comment Monday and Tuesday on the status of the plant on Marine Drive in Port Angeles. Messages requesting comment also were left earlier this month with no response.
McKinley purchased an advertisement that ran Friday in the local newspaper to warn readers of noise expected to begin on Monday this week.
The company announced, "as part of the startup process," the cleaning out of steam piping, a process readers were warned would create noise at the long-dormant factory.
McKinley's silo-fed electric cogeneration apparatus, which creates steam for the mill and electricity for sale, is "nearing startup," according to the advertisement.
"The mill remains on target for meeting its objectives of producing power," it said.
Mill officials still must install an $896,000 piece of equipment at the 16.2-acre industrial site, according to city records that show a building permit application for the roll conveyor was submitted Dec. 19.
The permit is "ready to be issued," city Planning Technician Kevin Bagwell said Tuesday.
The equipment will replace the existing conveyor support structure and cover 400 square feet.
"It does not have anything to do with the internal operations of the plant," Bagwell said.
The company has been retooling the plant to run two paper machines that will use 100 percent recycled cardboard, a theme mirrored by Bio Pappel's Mexico operations.
McKinley will produce containerboard, which is manufactured by Port Townsend Paper, and packaging-grade brown paper.
McKinley is working in close cooperation with the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency, according to the advertisement.
"They told us they are going through a slow staged startup -- starting with [cogeneration] boiler using diesel and hog fuel," ORCAA Executive Director Fran McNair said Tuesday in an email.
"That was supposed to be the week of January 7th, but that has now been pushed back 2 weeks."
The 150 jobs that will be filled is 30 more than company officials estimated in its city shoreline permit application.
About 50 vehicles have been parked at the factory this week.
Workers are being paid under a contract with the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers Local 155 that was signed in June.
Varela-Daylow said wages range from $15.10 per hour for entry-level labor positions to $38 per hour for specialized journeyman jobs for electronics and instrumentation master technicians.
McKinley purchased the plant from Nippon Paper Industries USA in April 2017, later setting reopening dates of December 2018 and September 2019, then by Dec. 31 and mid-January.
The city of Port Angeles had been receiving about $500,000 annually in utility and electric fees from the plant when Nippon ran it.
Director of Public Works Thomas Hunter said Tuesday that McKinley has told city officials McKinley will use an average of 30 megawatts compared to the average 54 megawatts consumed by Nippon.
City Manager Nathan West said the general fund is not "reliant" on electric revenue generated by the mill.
Utility taxes paid by McKinley will help pay for two part-time police department code enforcement positions, he said.
"They are basically getting the equipment going, and to me that's a great sign that they are moving forward," West said.
"We are excited that they will be up and running soon."