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Second potential buyer submits bid for Ponderay Newsprint in Usk, Washington
USK, Wash. (From news reports) -- A second potential buyer has come forward within the past couple days for the mothballed Ponderay Newsprint Co. mill near Usk.

The mill's owners filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection and closed in June. The 927-acre property, which consists of 29 buildings and storage facilities and is adjacent to the Pend Oreille Valley Railroad and Pend Oreille River, was listed for sale last month for $11.5 million.

"We have had significant interest," said John Munding, the trustee overseeing the bankruptcy. "We do have one offer we are getting closer to confirming. We received another very significant letter of intent and letter of interest, literally in the past few days."

"So," Munding continued, "we are still marching forward with the sale."

Munding said he could not identify either party that has shown interest in purchasing the plant. But, Munding confirmed both have expressed interest in reopening the mill, which has operated since 1989 and employed about 150 people when it closed.

"There is no set deadline at this time, but we are working as expeditiously as we can to complete a sale," Munding said. "We hope to have it done in 60 days or less."

The potential buyers came as good news to Todd Behrend, who is the mill's interim manager. Behrend has led a skeleton crew at the plant to keep things operational so that any potential startup would go smoother.

"I have yet to hear a business plan or anything like that, but the fact that they are seriously investigating a reopening is a hopeful sign," Behrend said. "It's by far the largest private employer, with some of the highest wage rates, in the area.

"There are a number of raw material suppliers that are also affected," he continued. "So, we are very hopeful."

The land and buildings have a combined assessed value of more than $59 million, according a recent property tax statement from the Pend Oreille County Treasurer's Office.

The paper mill, which could be converted into making molded fiber or linear board , was owned jointly by Lake Superior Forest Products, a subsidiary of Quebec-based Resolute Forest Products, and five major U.S. publishers.

The Kalispel Tribe of Indians submitted a bid to purchase the property, but its offer was turned down in October.

News of the potential buyers came just as many of the former employees are running out of unemployment benefits. Behrend said reopening the plant would provide a significant boost to the area.

"We will do everything we can to convince them that (reopening is) a good idea," he said.

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