Resolute Forest Products is making a $30 million investment to better position its Augusta newsprint mill against competitors.
In June, the Canada-based company began building a replacement woodyard at the Augusta facility on Doug Barnard Parkway. The woodyard will likely be operational by September 2014, said Jay Backus, general manager of the Augusta mill.
“It just makes us a much more economical, viable mill,” Backus said. “It improves our competitiveness in the newsprint market. Newsprint is a difficult market right now. We have to keep our costs down to survive.”
The new facility will span about 3 acres of the mill’s property and was precipitated by an outdated pulping process.
“We’re eliminating the sawdeck that cuts those logs into small pieces,” Backus said. “We’ll be processing full-length logs through our woodyard, which debarks the trees and then chips them.”
The Augusta mill processes wood and waste paper to make newsprint, which is then shipped internationally. About 80 percent of its customer base, however, is in the Southeast.
Once the new woodyard is fully operational, the mill will convert solely to using a thermomechanical pulping process made from virgin Southern pine trees. It would no longer make pulp through waste paper.
About $16 million in new equipment, including a mill chipper, two log cranes and conveyer systems, will constitute the bulk of costs, said Backus.
A third-party contractor, which Backus would not disclose, will be hired to build and operate the new woodyard,
Backus said the hire will result in a company reorganization, but that jobs won’t be eliminated. There are currently about 290 workers at the mill.
“We will be moving people that are doing that now to other positions in the mill,” he said.
Resolute Forest Products, formerly known locally as Augusta Newsprint, operated as AbitibiBowater until the company changed names in 2011. The mill began operations in Augusta in 1966, Backus said.
In the past two years, Resolute has invested an additional $30 million for quality improvements and equipment in the Doug Barnard Parkway facility, Backus said.
The Augusta mill produces about 400,000 tons of newsprint annually. The company’s biggest customers are The Washington Post, Quad/Graphics and other Southeastern newspapers, including The Augusta Chronicle.
Resolute Forest Products owns or operates more than 40 pulp and paper mills and wood products facilities in the U.S., Canada and South Korea. It produces a range of forest products, including newsprint, commercial printing papers, market pulp and wood products.