Search for buyer of bankrupt Ponderay Newsprint mill continues after Kalispel Tribe’s bid is rejected

The Kalispel Tribe’s opening offer to purchase the recently shuttered Ponderay Newsprint Co. mill in Usk was turned down this month, leaving the fate of the bankrupt facility in Pend Oreille County uncertain.

The (Newport, Wash.) Miner reported that the tribe offered about $6 million for the property and facility, which the owners valued at more than $79 million in bankruptcy filings.

John Munding, the bankruptcy trustee overseeing the company’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy, turned down the tribe’s proposal but said Tuesday it may not be their last.

“The tribe continues to express a valid interest in the property and facility,” he said in an interview with The Spokesman-Review.

Efforts to reach the Kalispel Tribe for comment were unsuccessful, but tribal Vice Chairman Curt Holmes told The Spokesman-Review that the primary intention was to reopen the paper mill and restore the jobs that were so vital for the community’s survival.

Munding said his intention was the same.

“The desire is to sell the assets to somebody that will utilize the mill,” he said.

While the tribe may make a higher bid, Munding said work is underway to encourage further interest in the 900-acre site and a mill that employed 148 people until layoffs began in late June.

“At this junction,” Munding said, “we’re still soliciting interest and offers from various parties locally and nationally.”

He indicated such offers may be in the works, saying that “we’ve had interest from people who are interested in purchasing” both the property and the facility, which opened in 1989 and produced large rolls of newsprint.

The goal, Munding said, is to find the “highest and best offer.”

“We’re trying to do it as expeditiously as possible but efficiently,” Munding said. “It’s a big mill.”

Meanwhile, Munding has authorized the sale of items on the mill’s property “that are not being utilized or deteriorating or burdensome.” Last week, for example, he signed off on the sale of 6,000 tons of logs at $5 a ton to Vaagen Bros. Lumber Inc. in Colville.

The $30,000 raised by that sale is a fraction of the money needed to pay of the $58 million the mill’s owners owe to creditors, according to court records.