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Augusta newsprint mill will cut 21 jobs

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An Augusta newsprint mill will eliminate 21 positions as it simultaneously builds a replacement woodyard on site.

The decision to trim jobs spanning all operations of the Resolute Forest Products facility was made in August after construction started on a $30 million project to replace an outdated lumber yard on Doug Barnard Parkway and make the mill more viable, said Jay Grantham, the interim mill general manager.

“Our business is extremely competitive,” Grantham said. “The newsprint industry is a tough business to be in. We’re constantly looking for opportunities to become more efficient and reduce our costs.”

Resolute Forest Products, formerly known locally as Augusta Newsprint, operated as AbitibiBowater until the company changed names in 2011. The mill began operations in south Augusta in 1966 and currently employs 275 workers, Grantham said.

Grantham said a time frame for the staff reductions has not yet been established.

“We’re certainly mindful of the hardships this places on our employees and their families,” he said. “We’re going to offer all the benefits that are allowed under our current union contract to the employees.”

Work on the 3-acre woodyard started in June. It will convert solely to using a thermomechanical pulping process and no longer will make pulp through waste paper. About $16 million in new equipment will account for more than half of the overall project cost.

A dozen employees who work in the current woodyard might also be displaced when a third-party contractor takes over the new operation after it’s completed in mid-2014, Grantham said.

“It’s kind of a fluid situation,” he said. “When the woodyard goes down in the summer of 2014, we will make a decision on what will happen to those employees.”

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. The Augusta mill, which ships about 400,000 tons each year, has about 80 percent of its customer base in the Southeast, with customers such as The Washington Post, Quad/Graphics and other Southern newspapers, including The Augusta Chronicle.

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