The Wenatchee Works aluminum smelter in Malaga, Chelan County, idle since 2015 but once a critical source of jobs in the area, is being “permanently decommissioned,” Alcoa has announced.
“That plant, and its history in this valley go back a long, long time,” Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz said Tuesday. “As the economics have changed, that plant is no longer economically viable. We’ve known that for quite a while, quite frankly.”
Some of the 18 employees who have remained at the location will help with demolition and redevelopment, according to an Alcoa news release. Wenatchee Works opened in 1952.
The announcement squashes any even remote hope that the plant, which once employed 400 people and still had the capability of producing 146,000 metric tons of aluminum, would restart.
“Our analysis does not support the long-term operation of the Wenatchee smelter, so we are now focused on preparing this site for a new future,” Alcoa President and CEO Roy Harvey said. “We appreciate the support that Alcoa has received from our community stakeholders over these many years, and we look forward to continued work with them to develop a robust redevelopment and reuse plan for the site.”
Once central to so many livelihoods in the area, the slow beginning of the end came in the 2000s, as prices for aluminum fell. That meant fewer jobs, and trouble for the plant.
The decommissioning process is anticipated to cost about $75 million, with $60 million in cash spent over the next seven years, $10 million of which will be spent in 2022, according to the news release.
The projected cash outlays do not include what the company could recoup from planned redevelopment efforts of the 2,800-acre site.
The closure is part of the company’s five-year review of its operating assets. The company closed its Intalco Works smelter in Ferndale, Whatcom County, in 2020, eliminating around 700 jobs. The Bellingham Herald reported in October that negotiations were underway for a new buyer that would continue the aluminum production at the facility, though nothing had been finalized.
Redevelopment details for the Wenatchee location have not yet been announced.
“I think the regional port sees this as an opportunity to repurpose the site for some other economic development opportunity,” said Chelan Douglas Regional Port Authority CEO Jim Kuntz, older brother of the Wenatchee mayor.
Kuntz said as the land owner, Alcoa is “in the driver’s seat” for redevelopment.
“Over time, we’d like to have Chelan County have more of a role in helping determine the future of that Alcoa plant,” he said. “It’s 2,800 acres, largely industrially zoned. And we’d like to see more local control in the future.”
Kuntz said the lack of industrially zoned property in Chelan County will make the site appealing. In addition to the acreage, access to wastewater treatment and proximity to high voltage power makes the property attractive.
The port’s first focus, he said, will be to work with Alcoa to develop a plan for the site.
“There’s some elements of the site that will need remediation as well,” Kuntz said. “That effort needs to start as well, and we’re willing to cooperate on that.”
In 2018, Alcoa permanently closed one of Wenatchee Works’ facility’s four remaining potlines. A fifth had been closed in 2004. The company paid the Chelan County PUD $62.4 million as part of an amended power sales agreement when it decided not to restart the plant at that time.
Chelan PUD spokesperson Rachel Hansen said Alcoa’s contract with PUD for the site remains in effect and said the company has “been a good business partner.” Hansen said Alcoa’s contract “is specific to selling power for smelting at the Wenatchee site.”
Hansen said as of now, the PUD plans to run the contract to term. The contract expires in 2028.
“Regarding the land, we’re going to continue working with the Chelan and Douglas County Port District to evaluate options that could lead to economic development for that site and the associated land around it,” Hansen said. “They’re looking for opportunities for economic development in south Chelan County, and we’re helping to support that effort.”
The Chelan Douglas Regional Port Authority purchased 72.5 acres of property near the Alcoa plant in September 2020.