PARK FALLS, Wis. (WAOW) – The Park Falls paper mill officially has a new owner, but it’s not clear if that means it will reopen.
It’s been a roller-coaster decade for the 100-plus-year-old mill, in the heart of Park Falls alongside the Flambeau River, with ownership changing hands several times.
The most recent sale – completed Aug. 31 – could be the most telling. The buyers – Wisconsin Paper Personal Property and Wisconsin Paper Real Property – are under Maynard Industries, which Park Falls Mayor Michael Bablick describes as “industrial liquidators.”
“They’re working with a couple different groups trying to come to a deal either of selling it or ... to restore operations very quickly,” Bablick said. “The fall and labor force are probably the two biggest challenges.”
Right now, the mill is in what’s called a “warm idle” mode, with basic maintenance being done to keep the plant ready for production. But, the mayor cautions that, without a sale, the new owners most likely will not keep the plant heated through the winter.
And, as with any paper plant, the Park Falls operation relies on water. Lots of water. Without heat, the plant’s pipes could burst.
That could prove fatal to any chance of the mill re-opening, Bablick said.
As for the labor force, he said many former employees have been out of work since last spring, when the plant closed its doors. Since then, many have run out of the state’s 12-week unemployment benefits. Plus, the COVID-19 expanded benefits, which provided an extra $300 weekly in unemployment, expired Monday.
“If (the re-opening) doesn't move quickly, it would be difficult to bring those employees back, and it would be unfair to the employers that they would be going to,” Bablick said. “I think the employees just want to know, is it time to find a new job, or is there reason to stick around?”