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Boise Inc. to close Oregon paper plant

Boise Inc. is closing down operations on its last paper machine at the end of the calendar year, which translates to a loss of about 100 employees.

The machine, located in St. Helens, Ore., creates paper from wood pulp and other materials. The company will still continue operating its other mills for various other types of paper products.

“This is a difficult but necessary decision to focus our efforts and resources on the products and machines elsewhere in our system that drive the financial performance and cash flow of our paper operations,” said Alexander Toeldte, Boise Inc.’s president and CEO, in a statement.

Toeldte added that the mill in St. Helens “cannot compete in the marketplace over the long-term.”

The 100 employees losing their jobs are mostly being laid off from the closed mill, although the Boise-based company said in a news release that some layoffs would come from elsewhere. It did not specify where.

Some salaried employees will get severance packages and job-hunting assistance, although Boise Inc. has not finished negotiating with the Western Pulp and Paper Workers Union in regard to how it will handle severance for union workers.

By Sean Olson

Idaho doctor gives up license after investigation

An eastern Idaho doctor has surrendered his license to practice medicine in the state of Idaho rather than fight allegations that he botched several autopsies.

The Idaho Board of Medicine said in December that an investigation of pathologist Steve M. Skoumal turned up evidence that he let his staffers practice medicine without a license, gave substandard care and abused or exploited patients through his conduct.

Skoumal, who has been licensed in Idaho since 1999 and who has performed autopsies used in several criminal cases, denied the allegations.

Skoumal’s attorney Jonathan Volyn told the Idaho Statesman Skoumal was close to retirement anyway and decided fighting the Board of Medicine wasn’t worth it. Volyn says Skoumal will keep an inactive license that allows him to work as a consultant.

The Associated Press

Local group takes over Soldier Mountain from Bruce Willis

Five Idahoans are now running Soldier Mountain, a ski area in Fairfield formerly owned by movie star Bruce Willis. They’re eyeing expansion in the future, but have a short-term goal of making the mountain sustainable as a nonprofit.

Soldier Mountain Ski Area Inc. was created to take ownership of the ski area from Willis, who purchased the ski area in the late 1990s.

The nonprofit was formed this spring by Boise attorneys, Will Varin, William Wardwell and Robert Thomas; farmer and entrepreneur Jamon Frostenson; and mechanical engineer Russell Schiermeier. Frostenson’s grandfather co-founded Soldier Mountain, while Schiermeier’s father was one of the owners before Willis bought it.

“Our focus now is sustainability. Down the line, there is incredible development potential,” said Varin, who grew up in Fairfield. While the new management has received some significant donations, Varin said the goal is to have lift tickets and ski classes cover the cost of upkeep and other operations on the mountain.

Don Schiermeier, Russell’s father, has volunteered to manage operations on the mountain through this year’s ski season. Varin said that at peak ski season, the mountain has 50 employees. In the off-season, a skeleton crew of 10 to 12 people work there.

“This mountain is a true economic driver for the community,” Varin said. “Our focus is for providing a unique, family-friendly ski area for the community.”

Varin said the new management has contacted more than 100 schools about bringing students to the mountain. Growing up, he often spent Fridays in March up at Soldier Mountain.

The ski area is near Fairfield, 80 miles north of Twin Falls and 114 miles east of Boise. The ski area is expected to open in mid-December and stay open until April. The lifts will be open from Thursday to Sunday. The three lifts help skiers get to 1,150 skiable acres that contain a 1,425-foot vertical drop.

The new owners have already started selling season passes for this winter.

Soldier Mountain’s ski lodge burned to the ground in 2009 but was rebuilt.

By Brad Iverson-Long

Big water gear to be transported on Idaho’s US 12

A large shipment of water-purification equipment will be transported through Idaho to Montana on a disputed mountain highway where big loads have been the subject of oversized controversy.

The Idaho Transportation Department announced Sept. 17 a trucking company will transport the purification equipment on U.S. Highway 95 and U.S. Highway 12 next week.

The shipment weighs 520,000 pounds and is 300 feet long, 20 feet wide and 22 feet high.

Shipments along Highway 12, which parallels the Lochsa River through northcentral Idaho, have been the subject of heated debate after Exxon Mobil sought to use the route to get enormous refinery gear from a Snake River port to Canadian oil sands.

Amid opposition, the company trimmed its loads and used another route.

The purification equipment begins its four-day journey the evening of Oct. 22.

The Associated Press

9 more Idaho clinics may have meningitis links

As federal officials expand their investigation of a meningitis outbreak tied to injectable steroids made by a Massachusetts company, Idaho health officials are contacting nine clinics that recently received other injectable drugs from the company.

The Idaho Division of Public Health says the clinics are: Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center and St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in Boise, the Idaho Eye Care Center and Walker Spine and Sports Specialists in Idaho Falls, the Idaho Eye Care Center in Pocatello, St. Luke’s Magic Valley Regional Medical Center in Twin Falls, the Ambulatory Surgery Center of Burley, and the North Idaho Pain Center and Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine in Coeur d’Alene.

State officials are asking the clinics to contact patients who were given the medications and to report any meningitis symptoms. So far, no illnesses associated with the other injectable drugs have been confirmed.

The New England Compounding Center has recalled the epidural steroids that are linked to the fungal meningitis outbreak. Only two Idaho medical facilities – Walter Knox Memorial Hospital in Emmett and Pain Specialists of Idaho in Idaho Falls – are believed to have used the company’s epidural steroids.

Nationwide, 15 people have died in the outbreak and more than 200 have been sickened by fungal meningitis, including an eastern Idaho man. State officials haven’t released his name, but they say he is older than 60 and is responding well to treatment.

The Associated Press

Xerox division hiring hundreds in Boise

WDS, a Xerox company, wants to hire 700 customer service and technical support people for its Boise office.

WDS runs call centers for wireless products and service companies.  The Boise office provides support for Verizon.

The company will host a job fair and tailgate party Oct. 19 at noon at the Idaho Department of Labor’s offices in Boise. Company representatives will also be on hand  Oct. 23 at the same location.  On Halloween, WDS will hold a walk-in event at their offices on Kimball Place in west Boise.

According to a job listing for a wireless customer care support agent, WDS will pay new hires $9 an hour.  WDS also offers medical, dental, and 401(k) benefits. A bonus program is also available that allows up to an extra $2.50 an hour.

The company decided to hire more workers locally because people in the Treasure Valley do not have accents or dialects, according to LoniSue Weiss, a recruiter for WDS in Boise.  The company also wants to staff up for the holiday season.

WDS is based in Poole, England and has 1,500 employees worldwide.  The company opened an office in Boise four years ago and now has 1,100 local employees.  According to Weiss, the Boise office is WDS’s largest.  In the United States, WDS also has offices in Texas and Washington state.  Xerox acquired WDS in July.

Scott Ki

Idaho trout revenues rise in 2011

Revenues from trout sales in Idaho were up about $4 million in 2011 due to a very high price per pound, but the revenues still had a hard time keeping up with rising production costs.

The fish farm operations, almost all located in the Magic Valley between Twin Falls and Hagerman, produced about 33 million pounds of trout in 2011, according to United States Department of Agriculture figures. That’s a little more than 7 million pounds under the 20-year average.

But prices also rose to $1.14 per pound, 11 cents above 2010 figures and 39 cents above the 20-year average, according to the USDA numbers.

Linda Lemmon, a fish farmer in the Magic Valley, said the numbers reflect higher costs for fish feed of both the animal and plant varieties.

“In general, it does mean that the price of fish has gone up this year, but the price of inputs went up and that’s the only reason (the prices followed),” she said.

The USDA numbers are notoriously uncertain, however, said Gary Fornshell, the University of Idaho aquaculture extension educator.

Fornshell said that the numbers are based on self-reporting surveys from some fish producers and are not always accurate. Many fish producers are vertically integrated, acting as both fish farmer and processor, which eliminates the need to sell fish to a processor on the open market, he said.

Still, the downward trend of fish production appears to mirror concerns from local fish farmers that diminished spring flows aren’t providing enough habitat to raise more trout, he said.

Lemmon said that there is a cap on how high a price consumers will pay for trout. Some fish farmers are worried that input costs could soon outpace what the farmers can make for each pound of trout on the open market.

Fish feed prices make up about 68 percent of those input costs and they have continued to rise due to high corn, grain and soy prices caused by the drought, she said.

“It’s not keeping up with the price of the fish,” Lemmon said.

Sean Olson

Dairymen condemn abusive farm behavior

Idaho dairymen and milk producers have responded to animal cruelty charges on Idaho’s largest dairy farm with strong rebukes for abusive behavior and assurances that abuse is not commonplace in the dairy industry.

The cruelty charges, leveled against three former employees of Bettencourt Dairies’ Dry Creek Dairy in Hansen, stem from a video that shows cows being beaten and dragged across the floor.

The United Dairymen of Idaho called the actions in the video “appalling and completely unacceptable” in a statement. It goes on to recommend that any abuse be reported immediately to authorities.

The Idaho Milk Producers Association said in a statement from its president, Brian Wilson, also condemned the abuse, saying it is “something that should never happen,” adding that the association will “hold our producers to the highest expectations with regard to the treatment of each animal.”

The executive director of the animal rights group that shot the video, Mercy for Animals, said the group believed the abusive behavior was “ongoing and was allowed to flourish, unchecked.”

Luis Bettencourt, who owns the Dry Creek Dairy, has said there is a “zero tolerance” policy at the dairy and workers were fired as soon as he was shown the video.

Sean Olson

Environmental Group sues over dredging

An environmental group sued the state after officials including Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter approved a plan to dredge the Salmon River for gold.

The Idaho Conservation League on Oct. 16 asked a 4th District Court judge to require Idaho to approve a reclamation plan before signing off on any mining projects.

In September, Grangeville miner Mike Conklin was awarded a five-year lease by the Idaho Land Board giving him sole access to a half-mile stretch about 13 miles downstream of Riggins.

The Boise-based environmental group contends Otter and other board members ignored laws meant to protect Idaho’s water, arguing that miners who use gasoline-powered suction dredges often leave big holes in the riverbed that damage valuable habitat for salmon and steelhead.

Some anglers opposed Conklin’s permit, saying it will hurt fishing.

The Associated Press

U.S. shadow inventory falls 10 percent

Residential shadow inventory, the pending supply of distressed homes not yet on the market, fell 10.2 percent from a year ago, according to a report from CoreLogic, which tracks the market.

The shadow inventory consisted of about 2.3 million homes at the end of July, representing a supply of six months.

The flow of new seriously delinquent (90 days or more) mortgages into the shadow inventory has been roughly offset by an equal volume of distressed (short- and real-estate-owned) sales.

Of the 2.3 million properties currently in the shadow inventory, 1 million homes are seriously delinquent, 900,000 are in some stage of foreclosure and 345,000 are already owned by lenders, CoreLogic reported.

The dollar volume of shadow inventory was $382 billion as of July 2012, down from $397 billion a year ago.

“Broadly speaking, the shadow inventory continued to shrink in July,” CoreLogic President and CEO Anand Nallathambi said in a statement. “The reduction is being driven by a variety of resolution approaches. This is yet another hopeful sign that the housing market is slowly healing.”

Dolan Media Newswires

6 buildings burns in small Butte County town

A fire pushed by strong winds destroyed six vacant buildings in the unincorporated town of Howe northwest of Idaho Falls. No one was injured.

KIFI-TV reports the fire started at about 3:30 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Howe Cafe and also destroyed the Little Lost Store. The fire then jumped the highway, burning another cafe. One house was evacuated.

Ric Katseanes of Idaho Falls says he noticed smoke coming from the roof of the cafe and called 911. He says Idaho National Laboratory firefighters arrived about 30 minutes later.

Butte County school superintendent Spencer Larsen says the fire threatened Howe Elementary School.

A dispatcher said no one was available in the sheriff’s office to comment.

A fire marshal was expected to be in Howe Oct. 17 to begin investigating.

The Associated Press

Moscow hospital wins auction for federal building

The winner of an online auction for ownership rights to the federal building in downtown Moscow appears to be a local hospital.

An executive with Gritman Medical Center said Oct. 16 the hospital beat out five other parties for the 38-year-old property with an offer topping $2.38 million.

The U.S. General Services Administration put the building on the market earlier this year after negotiations with Latah County broke down. GSA says the property needs more than $3 million in renovations and opted to sell it.

The U.S. Postal Service is the current anchor and tenant of the building, but the county also leases office space.

Hospital board director B.J. Swanson says the building will likely be used to expand patient services and continue the hospital’s presence in the city’s downtown.

The Associated Press

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