In the late 1920s in Port Townsend, local canneries were closing, the municipal water system was failing and the future looked bleak. In an attempt to save the town, early forefathers convinced Crown Zellerbach to open a pulp and paper mill here. The company spent seven million dollars to build a mill at the edge of town and to rebuild and manage the town’s water system, which pipes water all the way in from Quilcene. People moved in, a housing boom began, and Port Townsend was reborn as a mill town.
While the economic importance of the mill has lessened over the years, the mill still remains the single largest employer in the area, with a payroll of about 300 people.
The mill has had a number of different owners. It has gone by the name of Port Townsend Paper Corporation (PTPC) since 1997, when it was purchased by Northwest Capital from Haindl Papier GmbH, a privately held German paper producer. In 2007, due primarily to market conditions, PTPC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It emerged later under the control of its bondholders. Actual ownership is, at this point, a complicated issue.
The mill itself resides on roughly 450 acres just south of town on land bordering Port Townsend Bay. As shown on the map to the right, current boundaries split this acreage between two tracts connected by an “isthmus” of land along the water just wide enough for a road. The main mill operations are located on the northern tract. The southern tract is largely forested upland surrounding the mill’s onsite landfill.
PTPC produces unbleached kraft pulp for market as well as unbleached paper products made from a combination of kraft pulp and recycled corrugated cardboard. It is one of the biggest polluters in the state, though it struggles to stay compliant with increasingly stringent environmental regulations. For a fuller understanding of mill operations, check out PTWiki’s mill tour.
In 2008, amidst bankruptcy proceedings, the triangular southeast corner parcel of the southern tract was sold to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission (WSPRC) to be appended to the existing Fort Townsend State Park acreage. In addition, the mill sold a conservation easement to WSPRC for 220 acres of the southern tract (the area outlined in green on the map). The easement precludes any development of the property, but does allow for continued mill use of the landfill, as well as selected logging of the uplands. Limited pedestrian daytime use of the beach is allowed under the agreement, but the uplands are off-limits to the public. While WSPRC holds the easement, our local Jefferson Land Trust provides monitoring and stewardship support.
The orange path that passes through the northern tract on the map is a portion of the Larry Scott Memorial Trail.