Columbia Pulp will open a small-scale plant in June half an hour east of its 449-acre straw pulp mill set to open in Starbuck later this year.
The Pomeroy plant, which will operate on Port of Garfield property, will have significantly less production capacity than the main facility, currently under construction near Starbuck, according to John Begley, Columbia Pulp CEO.
It will serve to train employees, many of whom will ultimately work at the Starbuck plant, and provide sample pulp products for potential customers, he explained.
Columbia Pulp is pioneering technology developed at the University of Washington to turn wheat and alfalfa straw into pulp for paper products.
The company, which aims to employ around 100 people between its two plants, is holding a job fair in Dayton today from 9 a.m. to noon and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at its office in Dayton, 115 E. Main St.
Once the Starbuck plant is running, Begley said, the smaller Pomeroy plant will continue to be used for development of both people and product.
“Because it’s such a smaller scale, it’s a lot easier to wing it around and try to develop new products,” he said.
But it is “still too early to tell” what the longer-term plan is regarding the Pomeroy plant, Begley said.
By turning wheat straw into paper pulp, Columbia Pulp is employing a new technology, which it hopes will provide a sustainable and profitable use for straw that would otherwise go to waste by turning it into pulp for paper products typically made from wood.
Sustainable Fiber Technologies, a research company in Dayton that licenses production technology to Columbia Pulp, is already in operation in the former Columbia Cutstock building on Wagon Road.
Columbia Pulp has bought an exclusive license in the Pacfic Northwest for technology from the Dayton research company. The license pertains to technology it has developed and continues to develop, Begley said.
Two primary products of Columbia Pulp will be pulp, for use in paper products, and a carbohydrate-lignin co-product, which can be used for dust abatement and as fertilizer.
The main site, under construction near Starbuck, will produce 400 tons of pulp per day and over 200 tons of co-product, processing at a rate of one bale per minute, Begley said. The Pomeroy site, which he said will only operate five days per week, will produce approximately 10 tons of pulp and five tons of co-product per day.
Columbia Pulp will lease the Pomeroy building from the Port of Garfield for $5,856.90 per month, with a lease tax of $757.93 tacked on, said Port of Garfield Manager Diana Ruchert. The space was previously used to hold grass seed. In the 1990s, it was renovated for a bike manufacturing plant that never materialized, she said.
Columbia Pulp’s Pomeroy lease runs 17 months, with two five-year options. Begley said it will employ around 11 people. It currently employs five locals, according to Ruchert.
“Pomeroy has been declining in younger population for quite a while,” Ruchert said. “Jobs have been extremely hard to find. Many of them tend to be in the ag-field or in the forest service, but a lot of them are part time.”
Ruchert said the Pomeroy plant “feels like its helped to add to the youthfulness in our community. We’ve just been declining in younger population” she said, which could pose challenged for schools and other civic institutions.
Once fully operational, the Starbuck plant will employ just under 100 people, Begley said. Employees will come from all over the region, from Tri-Cities to Lewiston. The jobs will pay between $22 and $30 and hour, he said.