ELGIN — The Boise Cascade Company announced it might shut down its plywood plant in Elgin in early 2021.
The wood products giant notified the 230 employees at the Elgin facility it may reduce their hours or close the plant temporarily beginning Jan. 1. Boise Cascade spokeswoman Lisa Chapman said the potential reduction in hours and closure is due to a lack of logs because of wildfires as well as an order from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality regarding the use of wastewater at the Elgin facility.
“We were notified by the DEQ in April and after lengthy discussions we filed a lawsuit at the end of August,” Chapman said. “The DEQ said to limit our water use due to the presence of dioxins.”
Dioxins are a group of toxic chemical compounds that are harmful to health.
The DEQ granted a permit in 2018 for use of water at the Elgin plant. Chapman said there is no evidence that use of the water, as the permit allows, has caused or contributed to an environmental or human health hazard. She said samples from the water contain low levels of dioxins.
Boise Cascade filed a petition for reconsideration with DEQ on May 4, arguing the environmental regulation agency was “attempting to modify the permit without following its required procedural process.” DEQ denied the request on multiple grounds, including the company’s amendments to the water use plan were inconsistent with either the permit or Environmental Quality Commission rules.
The company, filing as Boise Cascade Wood Products LLC, responded on Aug. 31 in Union County with the lawsuit seeking a judicial review.
DEQ spokeswoman Susan Mills said the department is working toward a settlement with Boise Cascade.
“Oregon DEQ became aware of contamination in leachate runoff from Boise Cascade Elgin’s landfill and established limits to protect the environment and public health,” Mills’ statement said. “Those requirements are now the subject of a lawsuit filed by the company. We are working diligently and in good faith toward a settlement with BCE. We are not able to comment in more detail because this is a matter of ongoing litigation. Oregon DEQ’s mission is to protect public health from environmental contamination.”
Boise Cascade in the court documents contended DEQ knew the water the Elgin mill would use contained dioxins as reported in a fact sheet provided to the Department of Environmental Quality.
“Thus, DEQ issued the 2018 WPCF Permit knowing the dioxin-containing leachate would be transferred to the ponds and then used in and around the Elgin Mill,” according to the petition.
The Elgin facility cannot operate without the use of a state-approved wastewater system. Because of the DEQ’s notice about dioxins and requirements for a new plan for water usage, Chapman said the mill in Elgin may need to close while Boise Cascade works through the litigation and determines a solution.
“We are not sure yet what the resolution will be,” Chapman said. “We should know by December if we will have to cut back hours or fully close the plant for a while, but we will give the employees in Elgin plenty of notice.”