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Manager: Mill running strong and safely
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Kelly Wolff - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Safety has taken a step forward at Georgia-Pacific’s Savannah River Mill, plant manager Kelly Wolff said.

In remarks Thursday to the Rotary Club of Effingham County, Wolff said safety at the plant has improved and they also are getting closer on reducing and eliminating the smell.

“We had a safety performance that was not where we wanted it to be,” he said. “We took something that was a negative and turned it around.”

Earlier this year, the mill was honored with Georgia-Pacific’s CEO Safety Excellence Award for more than 1 million man-hours without any time lost because of an accident. It was one of four facilities in the company to receive the honor.

The mill has had a 50 percent improvement in safety, a 50 percent improvement in its environmental standards and a 15 percent improvement in productivity, according to Wolff.

“We have a wonderful facility,” he said.

The mill recently had a shutdown, even turning off the lights for three days as the power distribution facility was upgraded. The mill itself is 25 years old, Wolff pointed out.

“We didn’t make paper for seven days,” he said. “We invested a lot of money to make ourselves better. We upgraded our controls and safeguards. We’ve done a lot to modernize our power distribution process.”

Such shutdowns happen about once every three years, Wolff explained.

The plant also uses a variety of power sources, from electricity to coal to natural gas.

“We’re building some flexibility in the fuels we use,” Wolff said.

The plant also is making progress in its efforts to close in its sludge landfill, which encompasses 64 acres.

“We’re about 70 percent of the way to closure of that landfill,” Wolff said. “There’s some really cool things we’ve learned how to do. That closure is going extremely well.”

Wolff added the weather hasn’t helped.

“The rain has given us some fits,” he said. “We weren’t ready for 16 inches in one month.”

Market forces have been dynamic on the mill the last few years, Wolff said, and the products being produced have edged closer to residential consumer use.

“We saw a slack-off in our commercial business,” he said. “We saw our residential business go up. It’s kinda nice to be recession-proof in that way. Every indicator says we’re starting to see some recovery.”

Wolff also praised the mill’s workers for their efforts in making it more efficient and in recruiting business. When a national company wanted more bath tissue, the Savannah River Mill was one of the facilities told to make that product. Hourly-wage workers went to a local store and talked to the store manager about what was wanted.

“That got all the way back to their CEO,” Wolff said. “They took that market-based management approach. We’ve got a great group of people. Our employees are making the right product and driving efficiency up. They’ve been doing a great job.”

The Savannah River Mill also prides itself on its relationship with the school system, and it was the strength of Effingham County schools that helped bring the plant to the county, Wolff added.

“Today, we have an even better school system,” he said. “It’s a privilege to be in the community. We want to be a great neighbor. We want to be visible in the community but be invisible to the community.”