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Willamette Falls Paper Company will eventually use sustainable paper pulp alternatives

PHOTO: AMANI DUNCAN - The former West Linn Paper mill will reopen after nearly two years as Willamette Falls Paper Company. While people strive to use less paper to promote sustainability, Ken Peterson and his companies look to make paper itself more sustainable. The newest of those companies is Willamette Falls Paper Company,formerly West Linn Paper Company.

The Willamette Falls Paper Company — a branch of Peterson's Washington-based holding company, Columbia Ventures — recently bought all of the paper-making assets that used to belong to the West Linn Paper Company, which closed in late 2017.

The mill, which sits along the Willamette River in West Linn, is set to reopen this summer, Peterson told the Tidings. The mill will produce traditional paper products made from traditional paper materials but will eventually produce paper made from more sustainable alternatives like wheat straw, agricultural waste and hemp.

Peterson serves on the board of directors for Columbia Pulp, North America's first tree-free pulp mill and a partner of Columbia Ventures.

"Columbia Pulp is in the final stages of a very large, first-of-its-kind plan to make pulp used in the paper industry out of wheat straw that would otherwise be burned," Peterson said.

Peterson's involvement with Columbia Pulp and this innovation in paper-making is what got him involved with reopening the mill in West Linn. Brian Konen, the former chief operating officer for West Linn Paper Company, approached Peterson about reopening the mill a few months ago because he was interested in the idea of wheat straw pulp.

Peterson said that when Konen came to him with the idea of reopening the mill, they did not know each other, nor did Peterson know much about the mill.

"I was really not keeping track of this at all. I had several other things going on and he reached out to me," Peterson said. "We did not know each other at that time but he was aware of my support for and aware of my deep interest in alternative fibers."

He added that, "As the head of the mill, he (Konen) had been on a personal crusade to find someone to reopen the plant."

In the end, the idea of Willamette Falls Paper Company was too intriguing for Peterson to pass up.

"The paper industry has been under a lot of pressure in the northwest and in the United States in general. There's been a lot of changes and closures, as well as new investments," Peterson said. "As I talked with Brian Konen about this particular plant and how it fit into the paper ecosystem on the west coast and did due diligence, I became convinced that there was a rather unique opportunity at hand and of course, I'm a resident of the greater metro area and interested in manufacturing jobs and that's been an interest of mine for a long time."

Peterson is also considering operating the paper company for industrial or commercial uses. He mentioned exploring other uses of the new Willamette Falls Paper Company site beyond paper making.

"There's a significant industrial establishment there and it has been for 130 years and I'm not completely sure. There may be other ways that we can put to good use that might not be in paper-making," he said. "There may be people who have ideas in the area and they need to something that that site would be able to supply in addition to paper-making and that would be beneficial, generating money in the community and employees and so on."


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