Lumber mill’s final days

Published 8:26 am Wednesday, May 27, 2009

FRANKLIN—Friday will be the last day of operation for the International Paper Co. lumber mill.

The company announced March 31 that it would close the sawmill by May 31, citing a lack of orders in the housing and lumber markets. IP said 123 jobs would be eliminated, 119 of them at the sawmill and four in the company’s procurement division.

“The rest of this week they will be operating shipping only, shipping out the remainder of the lumber that is there,” IP spokesman Desmond Stills said Tuesday.

The yard at the sawmill — bustling two months ago with activity around a mountain of logs piled high against a yellow crane, all while a steady stream of tractor-trailers rumbled through the gates — stood eerily silent on Tuesday.

Stills said most of the sawmill’s affected employees, 99 of the 119, had requested and were granted early leave.

“The professionalism demonstrated by our work force over the past few months is a testament to the character of the men and women who operate and maintain the Franklin Lumber Mill,” said Carl Buck, the sawmill’s manager. “It has been an honor working with them, and I wish them all the best as this chapter of our lives comes to a close on Friday, and we move on to seek out new employment opportunities.”

Stills said the company was able to reach an effects bargaining agreement with the employees’ unions, but he declined to provide details.

The company has not made any decisions about the sawmill site or its equipment, according to Stills.

“IP has spent the last couple of years looking for a buyer unsuccesfully,” Stills said. “The company is not currently actively seeking a buyer.”

The sawmill’s closure marks the end of an era. For the last 154 years, there has been a sawmill operating along the banks of the Blackwater River at Franklin.

According to the Parker Rouse book “The Timber Tycoons,” John Frisbee founded a sawmill here in 1855. Later, the Camp family purchased an existing sawmill from the Neely brothers in 1886.

IP also announced in March that it would cut 35 positions in the company elsewhere: 10 at the Converting Innovation Center by June 30 and 25 at its sheet converting plant by Sept. 30.

The job cuts at IP are not expected to have an impact on the adjacent paper mill, which employs about 1,100 people.