Widespread impact feared from paper mill closing in Snowflake, Ariz.

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

SNOWFLAKE, Ariz. -- For more than 60 years, generations of families in Snowflake, Taylor and Heber, Ariz. have relied on paychecks from the area's huge paper mill.

Now, that paper mill, owned by Canadian company Catalyst, has announced it will close on October 1st.  A decline in the use of newsprint is leading to the closure of the plant, which recycles paper products.

Roy Perkins built a beautiful home in Snowflake and he and his wife raised eight children from his 47 years employment at the mill.

"For 47 1/2 years it's been a good job because I was able to live in the area I liked to live in and raise my family in an area small community which I like," said Perkins.

Now he's worried two of his sons, Darren and Dusty, who also work at the mill, will have to move their families to the Valley once the mill shuts its doors.

"It'll be a big change for them and if we can't employment around here we'll have to seek it outside of this area most likely," said Darren Perkins.

Perkins said jobs are scarce in Navajo County and there are few that come close to the wages with benefits paid to the 300 workers at the plant. The rail yard and a fuel plant that rely on the paper mill will also close, putting at least another 100 workers in the unemployment line.

Dusty Perkins doesn't want to move his family to the Phoenix area, where he worked in the past. He and his wife Rachael want to stay in rural Arizona and give their children a chance to grow up in a small town. Now, he has no idea what they'll do without his job at the mill.

Other businesses in the area will also face hard times with the mill closing. Jill Shelley is afraid her Jill's Chic Retreat, a salon and designer jeans retail store, will also suffer once the paychecks stop at the mill. 

"We all had hoped that it wasn't true," said Shelley.

"I don't know of any business that won't be affected," said Paul Watson, Snowflake's city manager.

Watson said most of the businesses in his town are family owned, and the loss of an estimated $32 million a year in wages from the mill's closing will be devastating.

Snowflake mayor Kelly Willis said news that the area's main employer was closing took him by surprise.

He said that in spite of the pioneer spirit of his town's more than 5,000 residents, things are going to be tough with so many out of work at the same time. 

Navajo County Supervisor David Tenney and other officials are holding out hope that another company will buy the mill and keep people working, but according to Catalyst spokesperson Lyn Brown, that no longer seems to be an option.

Brown adds that the paper mill is scheduled to be torn down and sold as scrap, something that will bring a sad end to those who've relied on more than a half century of employment.

Catalyst to permanently close Snowflake recycle paper mill