Ballard County leaders still have questions surrounding Verso paper mill closure

Ballard County leaders say they’ll still work to move another industry to town.

The verso paper mill announced its plans to close the plant after idling since November. The plant will now start a 60-day process to close the plant and bring it up to environmental standards.

This means 120 more people will be out of a job. Each employee will receive severance packages specific to them. Verso company leaders met with their employees and county and city leaders Tuesday about the closure as well. There are still several questions county leaders say they want answered.

The Wickliffe plant has changed hands before, and Ballard County has always stayed hopeful. County Judge Executive Vickie Viniard says this time was no different. She says the county’s looking into possibilities. Viniard says since the mill announced it was closing, she hoped to have more answers after meeting with company leaders, but she still has questions.

"I was hoping they would consider that (bids) but I don’t make their business decisions for them," Viniard says.

Verso Regional Vice President Adam St. John was one of those company leaders. His main message was Tuesday was not easy for anyone. "Anytime you shut down a facility, it’s an emotional event. There are a lot of people here the community relies on this paper mill it’s just a sad day," he says.

I did ask St. John some questions he couldn’t answer, including questions about the company’s chapter 11 bankruptcy, the plant’s current status, and about bids for the plant. St. John said he couldn’t comment on why Verso didn’t accept any bids.

Viniard wants to know about those bids. She says the county’s going to start taking the mill’s future and jobs for the county into their own hands. Viniard says Verso agreed that the county could show off the mill property if the county could find a promising buyer.

"We are still looking at other possibilities, and we’re not going to give up on looking," Viniard says. 

Viniard says whenever one industry door closes, she looks for another to open.

The plant will keep some people on as security or caretakers after the closing process. As for jobs in Ballard County, Viniard says ARTCO, a barge company recently relocated to Wickliffe, is bringing 15 jobs to the area. She says she expects that business to grow in the next few years.

Earlier Tuesday, St. John said he couldn’t comment on much about the mill’s future or their employees, but he said the company tried to keep the plant open and is disappointed to be closing. St. John said the plant will take 60 days to close. After that, their 120 remaining workers will be laid off with severance packages specific to each employee.

But after the 60 day closure period, the mill will retain a couple workers as caretakers, and Verso would work to restore the land and materials to environmental/EPA standards. St. John said he didn’t know how long that process would take, but the company was out of options.

"The last option was to shut it down, which is what’s going to happen today, starting today, for the next 60 days," St John says. 

There is no word yet as to how many caretakers the plant will need. According to Tuesday’s statement, the projected last day for all furloughed and emergency employees is expected to be June 4.

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