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A year after the flood, Sappi emerges stronger and wiser

By the time last year's St. Louis River flood waters crested late Thursday, June 21, the water had risen as high as three to four feet up the outside of the main office building of Sappi's Cloquet mill.

By Friday, Mill Manager Rick Dwyer said staff and managers knew they were out of the woods, and by Saturday they started getting people in to help clean up.

By the following Wednesday morning the mill had most of its manufacturing assets up and running, including the pulp mill, the recovery boiler and utilities, and the coating, calendaring and sheeting assets.

"A lot of people worked very hard to make this happen," Dwyer commented at the time, "including building earthen dikes, reinforcing walls and carting out wheelbarrows of river debris and mud from the basement."

A hastily assembled crew of assorted mill workers was able to sandbag outside the shipping area, keeping out flood waters for the most part, and there was minimal damage to the work in progress and finished goods inventory.

The unprecedented flooding left behind debris that washed in with the river and caused peripheral damage to landscaping, back offices, and other non-operational areas. Amazingly, however, all was set back to rights - and then some.

"We recovered completely from the June 2012 flood," said Dwyer this week. "All important production equipment was running in less than a week and in the recovery, we actually took the opportunity to improve the facility."

Dwyer said the Sappi mill facility was completely restored and has been in excellent operational order since the flood. The company has refurbished its main office complex, and the hydro plant, mill water systems and storeroom have all been repaired to original condition or better.

Dwyer credits the quick-thinking and ingenuity of mill workers with keeping damages from the flood to minimum.

"Through quick resolve, we are grateful for the extraordinary teamwork of our employees, who pulled together to help, no matter what role or title," he attested. "The positive outcome was a result of our collaborative efforts."

During the aftermath of the flood, Dwyer said Sappi continued working on its project to convert the mill to specialized cellulose and the project stayed on schedule despite the flood.

The company has also developed a response plan in case the same type of catastrophic flooding should happen again, and Dwyer said personnel are now much better prepared to successfully respond.

"At the mills, we have developed an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) to be followed if there is a potential for a flood," he explained. "It includes weather monitoring, shutdown planning and timing as well as mobilization of resources for protecting assets. On a company level, we also have updated our communications policy to better address crisis communications."

And though the flood of 2012 was an event that everyone at Sappi hopes will never be repeated, Dwyer said that in retrospect it reaffirmed his belief in the hard work and dedication of its people.

"The flood brought out the best in us," he said.