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Sierra Pine shutters manufacturing plant

After nearly 40 years, 'poor market conditions' forces closure of Rocklin fiberboard facility
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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After nearly four decades in Rocklin, Sierra Pine will cease its manufacturing operations on Friday. “We’re going to terminate all manufacturing operations at Rocklin,” Sierra Pine spokesperson Katherine Fry said. “It’s just poor market conditions.” The original production line, built in 1975, shut down earlier this year resulting in the loss of jobs for more than 75 workers. The primary product was medium-density fiberboard for cabinets, furniture, wall panels and molding. In 1999, the company added the production of a thin medium-density fiberboard for doors and heavy-duty shipping crates. “We continued to run the newer line. You go down to minimal schedule and you can’t be competitive,” Fry said. “You can’t make it work.” Fry said none of the remaining staff will be relocated to Sierra Pine’s other facilities. However, a minimal staff of 15 will remain at the Rocklin plant. “We’ll dismantle the equipment. At this point, there are no plans for it,” Fry said. Roseville based Sierra Pine operates particleboard plants in Oregon and Georgia as well medium-density fiberboard plants in Medford, Ore. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had placed the plant on its watch list in response to various violations. Over the last five years, Sierra Pine has been hit with a total of $39,000 in penalties associated with violations of the California Clean Air Act, according to Air Pollution Control Compliance and Enforcement Manager Bruce Springsteen. “They had some nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide violations. Their emissions were a little bit higher in a couple of instances than their permit allows,” Springsteen said. The violations are focused on an oxidizer, which cleans air emissions from a wood boiler at the plant, Springsteen said. “The oxidizer transforms volatile organics into carbon dioxide and oxygen and non-hazardous constituents. When the oxidizer breaks down and they are not able to shut down their board making process, then (toxic gases) are released,” Springsteen said. Fry said the release of chemicals, like Formaldehyde, could be as little as 15 minutes in duration. “It’s not like you are in continuous non-compliance. It just means you had at least one incident throughout the year,” Fry said. “You’ll find there are little-to-no issues with the plant.” In 2005 Sierra Pine settled with Placer County Air Pollution Control District after the plant had a series of violation notices for dust from the plant landing on Taylor Road properties. “It’s a wood fiber for the most part,” Springsteen said. “Any fine dust can get into your lungs and is a potential irritant to your respiratory system.” Todd Burgers, who works across the street from the plant, is sad to see people out of jobs. “From all the years working here you’d go out to your car and there would be a layer of dust,” Burgers said. “For me it’s better to stay healthy.” Springsteen said only two businesses in the area have officially complained. Fry, who also serves as the Company’s Environmental Director, downplays the significance of the violations. “Just because we’ve had those (violations) that means we were not in 100-percent compliance 100-percent of the time,” Fry said. “We are very committed to environmental compliance and we have employees on site who understand the requirements.” In fact, Springsteen said the plant had a good record of correcting problems and the non-disclosed monetary settlement with the county stipulated the company would put money into upgrading the plant. “We believe they have excellent performance,” Springsteen said. “They committed to investing and upgrading portions of their plant to improve their environmental performance. It actually just came to an end last year; it’s finalized.” Over the years the Rocklin Fire Department has responded to numerous calls for fires and rescues at the plant. “Rocklin Fire has responded to Sierra Pine approximately every 18 months to every 2 years,” Rocklin Fire Chief Bill Mikesell said. “The fires are sometimes stubborn, but not catastrophic.” Most of the fires were in duct systems or production lines and did not involve chemicals. In May Rocklin firefighters helped other fire agencies battle a three-alarm blaze in Sierra Pine’s ambient air scrubbers. Fry said the fire was started by contractors dismantling the production lines. Rocklin fire has such a good relationship with Sierra Pine that they host regional training at the plant for multiple jurisdictions. “All in all, we have had an outstanding relationship with Sierra Pine and their workforce conducting many training and drill opportunities for both them and us,” Mikesell said. It’s unclear if that training relationship will continue after the shutdown.