Gearing up: Mill outage to bring hundreds of outside laborers to Canton

For the last month, Greg Petty has been on a leaflet campaign around Canton. He’s been to parking lots. He’s been to offices. He’s been to bulletin boards. He’s been inside Evergreen Packaging, the paper mill that looms large in the town’s small center, and trolled its perimeter, plastering spots that might catch the eye of workers with his restaurant’s offerings.

“We’ve got menus up at every tunnel and every gate and every parking lot,” said Petty, the owner of the Canton Lunch Box.

The Main Street lunch and dinner spot is hardly in need of new business. On any given weekday around noon, there is nary a seat to be found. The wooden tables and chairs are filled with mill workers and other locals, and the staff seem acquainted with virtually all of them.

But what Petty, with his paper push, is gearing up for is an onslaught of new customers, thanks to more than 1,400 contract workers who will descend on the town next week for a massive mill maintenance, the largest since 2003.


A collective undertaking

The workers are coming for what, in the paper business, is called a cold mill outage. The paper mill will halt operations for three days and undergo major maintenance for several weeks to overhaul the place. They’re cleaning, they’re replacing pipes, they’re rebuilding boilers, they’re aligning massive pieces of equipment like steam turbines.

It’s going to take regular mill employees working at full pelt — some clocking overtime — and a hoard of outside contractors to get it all done.

But for an often-sleepy hamlet like Canton, such an influx of people isn’t just a massive undertaking for the mill: it’s a massive undertaking for the entire town. With the incoming contractors, the town’s population will swell by a third. And out in the streets, if they’re not busily gearing up, they’re anticipating the busyness to come.

“I’m not going out to eat for the next week,” said Nancy Rathbone at Sign World WNC on Main Street.

Sign World itself, meanwhile, has been cranking out custom signage for the mill as fast as it can: signs to mark parking lots, signs to mark exits, stickers for parking, ID badges, new plaques for machinery and a plethora of other printed pieces to orient and direct the out-of-town workers. Charles Rathbone, the company’s owner, said Evergreen officials have been in nearly every day in the weeks running up to the outage.

“We’re getting a lot done for the mill to gear up and probably expect a whole lot more during the period of time that they’re here,” said Rathbone, who said he’s excited about the outage and believes it will be good for Canton.

The mill estimates that it’ll be pretty good for it’s hometown, as well. The outage should boost the local economy by $500,000, according to Mike Cohen, a company spokesman.

According to Cohen, they arrived at that $500,000 figure by using an economic impact formula that factors in things such as hotel nights, meals and gas.

Mark Clasby, Haywood County’s economic development director, said that’s only one facet of the positive impact the outage will bring.

“It’s good news because of the capital investment that they’re making in the plant to continue operations, but there are multiplier effects — it means buying supplies, there’s hotel nights, meals, things like that, expenses. All those factors go into that,” said Clasby.


A boon for business

Businesses around Canton are already feeling the rising tide they hope will continue to lift all boats.

At Days Inn on Champion Drive, they’re completely booked. They’re pretty close at the Comfort Inn just down the road, the town’s other hotel.

“We just have a few rooms, but they are very few,” said Gagan Nanda, who works the desk there. He said they’ve been taking advance bookings for three months now in preparation for the work.

The contractors themselves have been preparing, too. Anchor Steam Power, based in Asheville, said that, although they keep a crew at the plant nearly year-round to repair and maintain boilers, they’ll be sending in nearly 200 extra workers to revamp most of the plant’s many boilers.

Evergreen will be paying dearly for the maintenance — they expect it to cost in the range of $20 million.

They’ve budgeted for the outage and upped production in the weeks leading up to it so they can keep their customers’ orders filled, said Cohen, though, he notes, it isn’t a move they’re keen to make regularly.

“It’s one of those things that you do them when you need to, but not anymore often than you have to,” he said.

Of the $20 million that the company thinks they’ll spend on the outage, 60 percent of it — around $12 million — will be spent on paying workers to do the maintenance. The other $8 million will go to pay for the maintenance itself, purchasing supplies and equipment, along with preparations for the incursion of extra help.

Some of those workers, like those from Anchor Steam, are from the region. Most, though, are industry specialists who travel around the country, bouncing from site to site doing similar work.

“Most of the contractors have specialized skills for what we need,” said Cohen. “A paper mill is not like anything except other paper mills, and even those can be very different.”

With so many out-of-region workers, that means they’ll be relying on the town for pretty much everything, and in addition to shops and motels, some of Canton’s restaurants are ready to entice the temporary customers in for a meal or two.

Back at the Lunch Box, they’ve bolstered their operations in addition to their marketing.

“During the outage and the upgrade, we’re going to be opening at 10 in the morning and we’re going to double our staff,” said restaurant-owner Petty. They’ll also be delivering to the mill, and just in case anyone didn’t hear about their offerings, they’ve saturated the campus with paper.

Petty is also the man behind the renovation of the town’s Imperial Hotel, which will include a restaurant slated to open later this year. Though he was shooting for both restaurants to be open, Petty’s excited about the infusion of people and believes it will be a boon to the town’s businesses and morale.

“I think a lot of the people in town are excited about having 1,500 people in town that aren’t from Canton,” said Petty.

Rene Cutshaw, the service manager at Sagebrush steakhouse, one of the town’s other lunch spots, said they’re bulking up their normal staff schedules, too.

“We are putting some extra staff on next week and getting ready for the people staying in the hotels that are right behind us,” said Cutshaw.

And as one of only two restaurants that serve alcohol, and the only bar, they’re expecting an upshot in their sales there, too.

“We’re the only option, but we’re a good one,” said Cutshaw. “The next closest [bar] is O’Malley’s in Waynesville, so we’re making sure we’ve got a bunch of bottled beer ready and making sure we’re ready to meet their needs.”

The town itself has been helping out with operations, too. Though Town Manager Al Matthews said Evergreen has been handling most of the logistics, his staff has been helping them locate parking lots to house the workers’ vehicles while they’re here, which is no mean feat in Canton’s small downtown.

“We’ve been coordinating with their people to accommodate the extra vehicles that will be in the town, and our law enforcement is trying to accommodate that, to have enhanced patrols to protect all those vehicles,” said Matthews.

With so many unmanned cars sitting in vacant lots all day, police realize that the temptation might be too much for potential thieves.

Matthews, too, is optimistic about the benefits that the maintenance will bring.

“I think it will be very positive,” said Matthews, echoing the sentiments and hopes expressed by many in Canton ahead of the outage.

So as the little town readies for the big mill ball, they seem to have their hopes high that the temporary boom will be as loud and prosperous as estimates promise.

Canton mill case moves forward

A recent decision by a North Caroline administrative law judge has denied Evergreen Packaging’s attempt to dismiss the case filed by Cocke County, Tenn., and seven Tennessee and North Carolina based groups against the wastewater permit for its Canton pulp and paper mill.

In addition to challenging the water discharge permit, the Southern Environmental Law Center also filed a challenge to a separate document, the mill’s color “variance.” The variance, say the environmental groups, has allowed the facility to continue to exceed the state’s narrative standard for dark color in the Pigeon River since the 1980s.

The ruling means that the case will now move forward. Clean Water Expected in Tennessee, Clean Water for North Carolina, Cocke County, Tenn., Tennessee Conservation Voters, Tennessee Scenic Rivers, Tennessee Chapter of Sierra Club and the Western North Carolina Alliance are represented by attorneys from the Southern Environmental Law Center in the case filed in July.

Evergreen’s fate is important to WNC

Mix a strong environmental ethos, economic realism and strong community pride all together in the same brain (mine, in this case), and in almost any environmental controversy or issue, there’s an outcome that fits nicely into my world view.

Logging in national forests? It’s fine, but do away with large clearcuts and don’t make taxpayers subsidize road building. Coal-fired power plant air pollution? Despite the threat of higher electricity rates, make them install the most up-to-date pollution controls on every coal-fired plant in the country. Buffers on mountain streams? Laws should be stringently enforced and fines for violators should be large. I could go on and on.

When it comes to Evergreen Packaging (the Canton paper mill owner) and its wastewater discharges into the Pigeon River, however, it’s far more complicated.

And now, as the EPA says the state is being too lenient on the mill and threatens to take over the permitting process for its wastewater discharges, I’m more than a little worried about the future of this huge east Haywood plant and the smaller packaging facility in Waynesville.

In the name of full disclosure, however, readers should know a few things. First, I’ve had informal ties to what was formerly Champion International for more than two decades. When I was editor of the paper in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, I was friends with management and rank and file employees. My daughter’s babysitter was the wife of a Champion engineer. I broke bread and tossed back beers with those workers.

As a journalist in Western North Carolina since 1992, I’ve watched as Champion morphed into Blue Ridge Paper Products and then was purchased by Evergreen. Here in the mountains I’ve known dozens of employees, guys I’ve played basketball with, people whose children I’ve coached in soccer, and people I’ve gotten to know because of their involvement in civic groups or who have been elected officials in the region.

Finally, Evergreen just recently became a major sponsor of Folkmoot USA, an international dance festival I’ve been involved with as a volunteer for the past decade. The company didn’t give a huge amount of money, but it did make a commitment that will help Folkmoot quite a bit. Over the last 100 years I would dare say that the owners of the Canton mill have made it the most philanthropic private company in the region.

So there you go.

But wait, if I’m going to be completely honest about how Evergreen affects me, there’s more. The businesses I own, including Smoky Mountain News, will have a better profit and loss statement this year if Evergreen remains viable, keeps providing jobs for 1,400 people, keeps pumping money into the economy, and keeps helping the businesses that purchase advertising from us. I’d venture to say that the list of businesses in Haywood County and the region who could make similar statements is very, very long.

I have a feeling that the disclosures mentioned above don’t really set me apart from most of my acquaintances in Haywood County and this part of the state. The truth is that almost everyone who lives here, and especially those active in community and civic affairs, are in the same position. The paper mill’s employees are our friends who help form the backbone of this place we call home. In addition, the $70 million annual payroll and its $58,000 per year average wage have a profound impact.

I’ll tell you another reason I want Evergreen to emerge from this permitting process still profitable. Call it nostalgia, but there’s a place deep in my soul for people and companies that make something tangible. This feeling led me as a young college graduate to spend nearly 10 years on building sites as a carpenter. These days, we are outsourcing everything. What was once an idealistic disdain for polluting factories has turned into a deep respect for American companies that are able to pay people a good wage while making a profit by building or making things, whether it’s tires, cars, electronics or paper.

We all want the color of the Pigeon River as clear as the water in the Nantahala and Tuckasegee rivers. Absolutely, no doubt about it. It hurts every time I go by that river and see its tea-brown color. Those downriver who don’t benefit from Evergreen have valid arguments about lowered property values. Yes, it’s a huge mill on a little river that would never get a permit today.

Here’s the bottom line: I expect state and federal regulators to demand as much improvement from the mill as is possible without forcing it out of business. I’m no scientist, so in this instance I have to rely on those who know about these things.

But here’s what I do know: I don’t want those friends of mine jobless. I don’t want the town of Canton bankrupt or Haywood County to suffer the loss of its largest taxpayer, negatively affecting schools, law enforcement, health services, the community college and much more.

This is the real world, the place we live in every day. I’m an environmentalist and want Evergreen held to the strictest standards it can meet while remaining open and continuing to be an integral part of this community.

(Scott McLeod is editor of The Smoky Mountain News. he can be reache at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

EPA takes aim at Canton paper mill

A water pollution permit for the Canton paper mill has come under fire by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The pollution permit is up for a periodic review by the state. The EPA isn’t pleased with the standards the state has proposed and is calling for tougher limits.

If the state doesn’t ratchet up the controls, the EPA has threatened to step in and handle the permit itself. The EPA gave the state 90 days to respond with a rewritten permit. Such intervention is rare.

The state environmental engineer who wrote the draft permit was barred from speaking to the press after making controversial comments to other newspapers last week. Sergei Chernikov told media outlets that the standards suggested by EPA would come with astronomical costs that are financially out of reach for Evergreen Packaging. He also defended the mill and spoke out against the tougher requirements being sought by EPA. After the comments appeared in print, the Division of Water Quality press office took over media inquiries related to the EPA intervention.

“The information Sergei expressed was the information he had when he designed the draft permits. But we have other information being evaluated,” said Susan Massengale, public information officer for the Division of Water Quality. “It is a much bigger picture.”

Three hearing officers will ultimately decide on how stringent the state permit is, not the engineer who wrote the draft permit. The suggested limits in the draft permit are only part of what the hearing officers will consider when making a final decision, Massengale said.

They will take into account numerous comments from the public input period, from environmental groups to mill supporters. The EPA falls in that category as well, Massengale said.

“It has submitted its comments for this process the same as any other commenter,” Massengale said.

But unlike the other commenters, the EPA carries regulatory weight and can mandate pollution limits by taking over the permit.

Massengale would not comment on what limits the EPA wants tightened up.

“I am not going to parse the language. That is up to the hearing officers,” Massengale said.

To Hope Taylor, executive director of Clean Water for NC, the EPA recommendations don’t go far enough.

“If you were going to bother objecting to the permit, why not do so in a way that could accomplish a lot more?” Taylor said

For example, the color limit recommended by the EPA of 36,000 pounds a day is only 1,000 pounds less than what the mill is discharging now. And while the EPA is taking a tougher stance on temperature, it would only look at monthly averages, which does nothing to rein in spikes of hot discharges that can lead to fish kills, Taylor said.

During the 1990s, the mill embarked on a $330 million environmental overhaul, spurred partly by expensive lawsuits. Environmentalists and downstream communities want the mill to make further improvements. But instead, it seems progress has plateaued.

As for Evergreen Packaging, they released a written statement about the news saying that the EPA comments were part of the permit process, which is designed to consider all voices and viewpoints.

“We look forward to continuing to work with regulators on finalizing a permit to continue the progress that has been made,” the statement read.


What the EPA wants

Evergreen paper mill in Canton sucks roughly 29 million gallons a day out of the river and uses it in myriad aspects of the paper making process — from cooling coal-fired boilers to flushing chemicals through wood pulp — and then dumps it back in the river again.

The EPA wants the mill to reduce the dark color of its discharges slightly beyond what the state is calling for and wants to see a study of color going into the Pigeon River. The state was willing to reclassify the mill as being in compliance with the state’s color standards and no longer in need of a color pollution variance, but the EPA maintains that the mill should not come out from under the oversight of a color variance.

The water the mill puts back in the river is much hotter than the river’s natural temperature. The EPA also wants tougher limits on the temperature than the state asked for.

The state also was willing to drop testing of fish tissue for dioxins, since there is no longer a warning against eating any of the fish species from the Pigeon. But the EPA still wants to see testing every other year. The state proposed monitoring dioxin discharges based on a monthly average, but the EPA wants a maximum daily limit imposed as well. The EPA also called for more monitoring in several areas the state was willing to overlook.

Quick facts

• The mill is operating within state pollution limits on most counts. The current permit allows a variance in two areas: temperature and water color. In the new permit, the mill is again seeking a variance for temperature, but not for color.

• The mill proposes to reduce color over the next four years from 42,000 pounds a day allowed under the current permit to 37,000 pounds a day within four years. The state doesn’t have a hard and fast limit on color but uses a subjective measurement, and has deemed that 37,000 pounds is acceptable.

• The improvement is small in comparison to the major reductions made since the late 1980s, when the mill discharged 380,000 pounds of color a day.

• Under the temperature variance, the mill can raise the water temperature by 25 degrees when measured half a mile downstream from the mill compared to upstream temps.

• Water would be sampled and monitored less frequently under the new permit. Evergreen does the monitoring itself and submits the stats to state regulators.

Emotions run high at hearing on paper mill pollution

Two contrasting images of the Pigeon River emerged at a public hearing on a controversial new water pollution permit for Evergreen Packaging, a paper mill in Canton.

The mill needs to renew its state permit to continue drawing roughly 29 million gallons a day from the river, using it in the papermaking process, then dumping it back into the river.

On one side of the divide were mostly raft guides, environmentalists, and Cocke County, Tenn., residents, who insisted the river was filthy and dangerously in need of stricter pollution requirements. They characterized the draft state permit as too weak and demanded a revision.

Meanwhile, the opposing party praised the Pigeon as a success story of past decades, a complete turnaround from its — literally — darker days. This pro-water permit faction, however, focused less on the river than the vast economic impact of the mill in the region and the efforts it has already made to clean up it’s operation.

They stressed that imposing rigid pollution requirements on the mill would be too expensive and could lead to job cuts.

“Everyone knows the advantages and strides that this mill has made over the years and the hundreds of millions of dollars they have invested in environmental issues,” said Haywood County Commissioner Skeeter Curtis. “I ask you, issue the permit. Don’t have restrictions that are not economically affordable to the mill.”

With about 1,400 employees, the mill is a major taxpayer, and supports related business and community organizations.

Mike Clayton, president of Champion Credit Union in Canton, referred to the mill as the “heart and soul” of Canton.

“The ripple effect of the Canton mill pays our mortgages and sends our kids to college,” said Clayton.

Luke Goddard, who serves as a town board member in Newport, Tenn., suspected an economic motive was driving most North Carolinians’ support for the water permit as written.

“What they have done is they’ve sold out the community, and they’ve sold out the river downstream, and they have bought your admiration,” said Goddard. “Sure you think, they’re great people. They’re paying you...What you’ve given us downstream is death, dioxin, chemicals, and you haven’t cleaned any of it up until somebody made you clean it up.”

“It looks a lot to me like money really talking around here,” said Frances Miller of the Cocke County Health Council. “I don’t think money is going to help us all that much once we don’t have any clean water or any clean air. I’d hate to leave that as a legacy to my grandchildren.”

Since 1990, the mill reportedly spent $526 million on an overall environmental overhaul, including about $300 million on the Pigeon River alone. While the river downstream is vastly cleaner now, progress has plateaued in recent years.

“We know the mill has made progress, but we haven’t seen progress in the last ten years,” said Hope Taylor of Clean Water for North Carolina. “North Carolina, I have very little faith in you. I’d like you to prove us wrong.”

Most Tennessee speakers said they did not come to the hearing to take jobs away, but to find a common solution that would benefit all who rely on the Pigeon River.

“We’re not here to demand food from your table,” said Raven Carswell. “Only a seat at the table you’ve been feasting at for years. We’re tired of scraps.”

Others pointed to health dangers posed by the Pigeon River because of the mill.

Michelle Cueller said she has contracted a skin irritation known as chemically-induced eczema for life after serving as a raft guide on the Pigeon River for 10 years.

“I can only hope that this is the only health infliction I will face,” said Cueller. “The stinging in your face, eyes burning from the water when you’re getting splashed [are] our facts.”

Joseph Hanks, vice-president of Evergreen Packaging, emphasized that the current owners and leaders of the mill had nothing to do with the “pain of the past.”

“There’s no mill in the world that is more compliant than this mill, so how much is enough?” asked Hanks. “The money is there when the technology is available to reduce the color...At some point, it’s just not fair to keep us from operating just because of the past.”


Stacking the deck

Both sides called in reinforcements while espousing their perspective on the pollution permit. Canton Mayor Pat Smathers called four aldermen from the town to stand behind him as he called for the permit to be granted as written.

“We’re all united in the Town of Canton behind Champion International,” said Smathers, despite the fact that Champion International abandoned the mill in 1997, and the mill is now on its second name change since then.

Smathers asked the other aldermen to speak after him — even though the moderator had not called out their names — then returned to the podium with more remarks, garnering criticism later that night for using up more than his share of time and for going out of turn.

Soon after, a raft guide called up about 20 fellow raft guides to demonstrate how the local economy in eastern Tennessee relies heavily on a healthy Pigeon River.

To that, Haywood County Commissioner Chairman Kirk Kirkpatrick had a quick retort.

“I suppose I could ask everyone impacted by the mill to step in here and they would fill this room,” said Kirkpatrick, adding that the families impacted could fill up the entire gymnasium across the hall.

N.C. Representative Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, pointed out that there has been a vast increase in rafters — from 21,000 in 1995 to 150,000 in 2007 — because of the mill’s expansive cleanup project.

“You’ve got a job because something was done about that river,” said Rapp, raising his voice. “I think you need to pay attention to that.”

Rapp said he agreed there must still be more progress but that the state should also recognize and support the mill’s willingness to use the latest technology to lessen pollution.

Audience members from both sides piped up later as Tennessee resident Peter Morrison blasted Smathers for coming up with his “panoply of alderman.”

“That is not fair,” said Peter Morrison. “They should have come up one at a time, not marching up here like the gangbusters.”

While Morrison spoke, a few attendants yelled out that the many more rafters than aldermen had walked up to the podium, prompting shouts from the other side that Smathers had spoken twice without signing up for two slots.

Morrison sat back down after the moderator told him he was out of order, but not before sneaking in another complaint about having to wait for speakers to walk down the aisle to get to the microphone.

The strangest moment in the night was undoubtedly when Clark Bauer went up to speak. Bauer took off his rafting T-shirt as he announced he was done with the rafting industry and would no longer take anyone to the Pigeon River.

Bauer said the millions spent by the mill on cleaning up the river could never make up for it causing cancer in his family.

“$525 million, where’s my family? I could’ve had more family,” said Bauer, adding that he and many others have received infections from the Pigeon River. Bauer even threatened to pull down his pants to show everyone “the sore on [his] butt.”

The moderator’s only response was, “We don’t want you to do that.”

Canton Mill pursues new pollution permit

Evergreen Packaging, a large paper mill in Canton, is seeking a new water pollution permit for the Pigeon River.

The paper mill sucks roughly 29 million gallons a day out of the river and uses it in myriad aspects of the paper making process — from cooling coal-fired boilers to flushing chemicals through wood pulp — and then dumps it back in the river again.

The river downstream from the mill is far cleaner today than anytime in the mill’s 100-year history. The Pigeon River was once so polluted few fish species could survive and it was unsafe for people to swim in.

During the 1990s, the mill embarked on a $300 million environmental overhaul, spurred partly by expensive lawsuits.

Environmentalists and downstream communities want the mill to make further improvements. But instead, it seems progress has plateaued.

“While the river has gotten cleaner since the 1980s, we can’t allow North Carolina to end the river cleanup until it’s clean and free of odor, foam and significant toxic discharges,” said Chris Carswell, who lives downstream of the mill in Cocke County, Tenn.

But Derric Brown, the director of sustainability for Evergreen, said progress going forward will be measured in much smaller steps than the progress of the past, mostly because of the giant steps already made.

“Incremental improvement is becoming increasingly difficult,” Brown said.

Sergei Chernikov, an environmental engineer in charge of the state permit, said it will take exponentially more effort to make less noticeable improvements as time goes on.

“The law of diminishing returns is in full force,” Chernikov said. “What they are working on now is the remaining 10 percent. It is definitely getting harder with each step. But they are making progress.”

The biggest environmental victory of the 1990s was getting the mill to drastically reduce dioxin, the most toxic chemical discharged into the river. The final health advisory against eating fish caught downstream of the mill was lifted in 2005. Fish once wiped out by the mill’s pollution are being reintroduced in a joint effort between the mill and state wildlife and environmental agencies.

Chernikov called Evergreen the cleanest paper mill in the state and among the cleanest in the world.

“If you look at other facilities throughout the nation and Canada, (Evergreen is) doing much better,” Chernikov said.

Hope Taylor, executive director of Clean Water for NC, disputes that claim, however.

“There is no way this can be called the cleanest paper mill in the world,” Taylor said.

Taylor said the pollution from the mill is all relative to the size of the Pigeon.

“You put an enormous paper mill on a tiny river, it is still a huge amount of pollution being released into a tiny river,” Taylor said.

The mill has faced repeated lawsuits, including class action claims, from downstream landowners in Tennessee over the past two decades. A federal lawsuit by three local landowners from Haywood County was filed this fall, claiming the pollution deprives them of the right to enjoy their property along the river.

The mill’s current pollution permit, dating back to 2001, sets limits on the pollution and mandates water testing on a daily and weekly basis to ensure compliance. The permit expired in 2006. The mill has been operating under an extension while drafting a new permit, which is now up for review.

The mill is operating within state pollution limits on most counts. The current permit allows a variance in two areas: temperature and water color. In the new permit, the mill is again seeking a variance for temperature, but feels a variance for color is no longer necessary.



A major source of contention is steaming water released by the mill into the river, which raises the overall water temperature.

In September 2008, for example, the water taken out the river was 66 degrees on average, but was a piping 93.5 degrees when put back in the river. Even half a mile downstream of the mill, the river was still 11 degrees hotter than it should have been — with a temperature of 66 degrees upstream of the mill compared to 77 degrees downstream.

In the winter, the temperature variance is even more acute, with the discharge twice as hot as the river’s natural state.

“You can actually see the river steaming in the winter,” Taylor said.

The discharges exceed federal and state temperature standards by a long shot, which cap the overall temperature increase at 5 degrees. The mill is allowed to raise the river’s temperature by 25 degrees under the variance in the pollution permit.

Chernikov said the river is hotter for only a short section, however, since side streams are constantly flowing into the river and cooling it back down.

“There will be some impact but whether it is significant or measurable is the question,” Chernikov said.

Brown said the temperature is not hurting water quality.

“There have been studies of the river showing that temperatures is not inhibiting the balance in indigenous populations of fish,” Brown said.

Evergreen uses a massive amount of water to cool its equipment and coal-fired boilers, which make electricity for the mill’s operations. It’s cheaper for the mill to make its own power from coal than to buy it.

Chernikov said the variance for Evergreen is similar to that of power plants in the state. In order to cool the water down before returning it to the river, it would require the costly construction of cooling towers. Cooling towers have a downside as well. They lead to lots of evaporation and less water is returned to the river, decreasing its natural flow, he said.



The upgrades of the ‘90s also reduced the discharge of color, which darkens the river. While marked improvements were made to reduce color, the mill has still required a pollution variance for the color of its emissions.

The new permit would make small improvements in color, eliminating the need for a variance, according to the mill and state environmental officials.

Typically, the lack of a variance is a good sign, indicating the mill is meeting state standards. But that’s not necessarily the case with color, Taylor.

Regulating color discharge is a tricky proposition for the state under its current protocol. The state doesn’t have a hard and fast limit, but instead limits color to an “acceptable” level.

“The color is psychological. For some people it may look fine, for some people it may not,” Chernikov said. “The color is really a very subjective parameter.”

Taylor said the mill agreed to make what she considers undetectable changes to its color discharge and in exchange the state suddenly deeming it within the “acceptable” range — thus no longer requiring a variance.

“They are trying to PR their way out of this variance,” Taylor said. “They are cooking the books to make it sound like they have improved in the past decade but they have not.”

Taylor wants the state to adopt a numerical standard for color.

“Without a numerical color standard, there is no way to tell whether they have met an acceptable color standard,” Taylor said.

But Brown said the subjective measure is appropriate.

“Color is aesthetic,” Brown said. “Different people perceive color differently.”

What’s acceptable in the mountains, where rivers are much clearer, could be much different than what’s acceptable along the coast, where rivers are sometimes black and briny by nature. Taylor said the state could still set numerical standards, however, by using a sliding scale based on the natural color of the river compared to the discharge.

Brown said the color discharged by the mill has no environmental impacts but is purely an aesthetic issue.

Taylor disagrees.

“We say color is an indicator of an adverse chemical soup that includes some toxins,” Taylor said. The less color, the less the overall discharge, and the better off the river is in general, she said.

Water gets tainted with color when flushed over wood fibers. Color leaches out of the pulp and ends up in the discharge that goes back into the river.

The mill proposes to reduce color over the next four years from 42,000 pounds a day allowed under the current permit to 39,000 pounds a day, a step the mill has already achieved. The mill’s goal is to reduce color to 37,000 pounds a day within four years. The improvement is small in comparison to the major reductions made since the late 1980s, when the mill discharged 380,000 pounds of color a day.

Taylor is also dismayed that water would be sampled and monitored less frequently under the new permit. Evergreen does the monitoring itself and submits the stats to state regulators. But Taylor wants testing by an independent third party to spot check the mill’s data.

“This mill has been so controversial for so long it is time for there to be independent testing,” Taylor said, calling for “full transparency.”


Dirty water

An environmental advocacy group Environment North Carolina has just issued a report that analyzes industrial pollution of waterways based on monitoring data from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2007. The report is titled Wasting our Waterways: Industrial Toxic Pollution and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act.

Major findings of the report include:

Blue Ridge Paper Products released 123,856 pounds of toxic chemical waste into the Pigeon River and was the 10th largest reported polluter of toxic chemicals in North Carolina in 2007.

The Pigeon River is ranked 7th in North Carolina for most cancer-causing chemicals, with 10,740 pounds of chemicals linked to cancer discharged by the Blue Ridge Paper Products plant in 2007.


Want to weigh in?

A public hearing on a water pollution permit for the Pigeon River by Evergreen Packaging will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 26, at Tuscola High School in Waynesville.

For more information on how to comment or about the draft permit, go to

Folkmoot, Evergreen Packaging form multiyear partnership

Folkmoot USA, North Carolina’s Official International Festival, has locked down its first presenting sponsor.

Evergreen Packaging has partnered with the Festival as its presenting sponsor for 2010 through 2013, becoming the first international corporation to develop a multiyear relationship with the nonprofit.

Based in Waynesville, Folkmoot USA operates a two-week folklore festival hosting approximately 350 musicians and traditional dancers from all over the world.

“This means a lot to the festival,” said Folkmoot USA Executive Director Karen Babcock. “In tough economic times, it’s good to have someone step up and make a multiyear commitment.”

Revenues from ticket sales do not cover the costs associated with hosting the festival. The nonprofit must pay Folkmoot performers’ room, board, and transportation expenses, as well as cover the cost of renting performance venues.

Evergreen Packaging, with facilities in Canton and Waynesville, employs more than a thousand people in Haywood County, home to Folkmoot USA. Evergreen produces paper and packaging products in operations worldwide.

“The fact that we are an international company made sponsoring this festival a particularly good fit,” said Jody Hanks, Evergreen vice president and general counsel. “We’re looking forward to helping bring people from all over the world to experience being in Western North Carolina.”

The 2010 Folkmoot Festival will take place July 22 – August 1 throughout ten counties in Western North Carolina. Folkmoot has been presented annually longer than any other traditional international folk festival in the U.S. and is considered one of the best festivals of its kind in all of North America.

Grand Opening and Candlelight Closing Tickets are now on sale. Call 828.452.2997 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for tickets.

For more information, visit or call 877.FolkUSA.

Hope of paper mill job attracts hundreds to ESC

More than 300 people waited in line at the N.C. Employment Security Commission in Waynesville on Monday to submit job applications with Evergreen Packaging, the paper mill in Canton.

Evergreen employs 1,200 workers in Haywood County. The company is not adding new jobs at this time but is merely building up its applicant pool.

“This is actually a routine practice we do once or twice every year to make sure we have a pool of qualified applicants as jobs become available, primarily because of retirements,” said Mike Cohen, spokesperson for Evergreen.

Mark Clasby, Haywood County Economic Development Director, said Evergreen has an older workforce that is retiring.

“So there is a continued need for replacements,” Clasby said.

Evergreen’s last call for applications was in January 2009.

The line seemed longer than usual this time, according to Virginia Gribble, the director of the Employment Security Commission. ESC accepts and processes the applications. Gribble cited the high unemployment in Haywood County, which was 8.5 percent in September.

The long line is likely a sign of the economic times, said Gribble, but it was also a testimony to the quality of employment offered by the paper mill.

“It has been a very good response from the community,” Gribble said. “A lot of people are interested in working there because they are such a good employer.”

Clasby agreed.

“They have been a mainstay here in our community for 100 years and have provided really good jobs over that period of time,” said Clasby.

Entry-level jobs were advertised at $37,500 per year plus health insurance and other benefits.

Many who applied cited a long lineage of family members who have worked at the paper mill.

The Canton factory makes paperboard used in milk and juice cartons and envelope-grade paper. Evergreen also operates a smaller plant in Waynesville where coating is applied to the cardboard.

New owners cut 150 jobs at paper mill

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

A round of layoffs struck Evergreen Packaging (formerly Blue Ridge Paper) last week when officials cut the positions of 28 salaried employees outright and decided to eliminate 122 hourly positions through attrition.

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