What was once the bustling Evergreen Pulp mill is today a forlorn factory of smokestacks and tan buildings clustered quietly beside the still, gray waters of the Arcata harbor near Eureka, Calif.
Entrepreneur Bob Simpson bought the closed facility in February with the hopes of reopening it as an environmentally friendly toilet paper plant. He planned to spend $400 million rehabbing the factory and rehiring 215 workers who lost their jobs when the old pulp mill shut down in October 2008.
The project stalled after Simpson failed to make his way through the red tape required to access federal stimulus money, billions of which was aimed at promoting energy efficiency and clean technology. Simpson said the government missed out on an opportunity to create so-called green jobs in an economically devastated area of California.
"Our president . . . stated we need to stimulate our economy with green jobs," he said. "Well, here we are, we're ready to go."
In Arcata, half the workers at the Evergreen Pulp Mill have yet to find work since the plant's Chinese owners closed the facility. Simpson bought it in February with the idea of turning it into the first chlorine-free, dioxin-free toilet paper mill in North America.
He says it was the kind of shovel-ready project the government said it was seeking. He had a business plan and support and was ready to begin, as soon as he found a $400-million loan.
Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) wrote a letter to the Energy Department on behalf of the company, Freshwater Tissue Co. Civic and environmental leaders, including Gregg Gold, the chairman of the North Group of the Sierra Club's Redwood Chapter, and Art Harwood, the executive director of the Redwood Forest Foundation, stumped for the project as well.
But Simpson failed to submit the nonrefundable $50,000 fee required to apply for a stimulus loan. He said it was because he couldn't get anyone at the Energy Department to clarify whether his project would qualify since it didn't fit neatly into established categories such as wind power or solar energy.
Some of Evergreen's former workers, such as Homer Purcell, are now leaving California to find jobs. Purcell, 58, his wife and his 40-year-old son all lost their jobs when the mill went under.
Purcell found a job as a boiler operator in Reno and now commutes back and forth as he tries to sell his house in Eureka. His new job pays less than half the $100,000 he made as a supervisor at the mill.
"I would have thought the process would have left us something for renewable resources," he said about the stimulus bill.
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