Columbia Pulp

Columbia Pulp sits adjacent to the Snake River in Columbia County, near Starbuck and Lyons Ferry.

Columbia Pulp, headquartered in Dayton, has announced plans to reopen of its Lyons Ferry plant in early May.

This comes more than a year after coronavirus concerns forced the plant to shut down in April 2020.

“We’re excited in taking this next step,” Columbia Pulp CEO John Begley stated in a recent news release.

The restart means more than 90 full-time employees will return to work when the plant is fully operational.

Returning employees are expected to make up about 70% the work force as Columbia Pulp begins resuming operations, administrative services manager Eleanor Specht said.

“Although we don’t know for sure, we have made a strong attempt to stay in contact with furloughed employees,” she said.

Columbia Pulp has been billed as North America’s first tree-free market pulp mill.

Based in one of the country’s top wheat-producing regions, the company has two plants (the other a small pilot plant in Pomeroy) processing waste straw for the creation of paper products such as food containers, towels and tissues.

The Lyons Ferry facility near Starbuck is structured to process more than 250,000 tons of waste straw per year, with a carbon footprint 76% lower than that of a conventional wood-pulping mill, according to Columbia Pulp.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the 140,000-square-foot plant to close barely six months after its opening in September 2019.

The much smaller Pomeroy facility, which opened in 2018, will remain closed for now.

Nevertheless, Columbia Pulp is excited to restart its Lyon Ferry operations.

“The marketplace is looking good for our innovative products, and we’re better prepared than ever before to meet that challenge,” Begley said.

In preparation for the reopening, the company has stated the plant will be re-commissioned and several process improvements will be implemented over the next eight to 12 weeks.

The improvements target “bottle-necking” difficulties the company had begun to experience shortly after it original start, Specht said.

The prolonged shutdown also enabled Columbia Pulp to obtain funds for plant modifications.

Company investors are funding the restart themselves, Specht said.

Hector del Castillo can be reached at hectordelcastillo@wwub.com or 509-526-8317.

Hector writes stories about local sports, helps produce the daily section and updates the web site. A lifelong sports nut having grown up in Maryland, he joined the U-B with more than 15 years experience in journalism.