by Judy Hodgson
Louisiana-Pacific Corp., headquartered in Portland, Ore.,
was formed in 1973 from 20 percent of the holdings of Georgia-Pacific
Today, L-P owns 1.5 million acres of timberland and operates facilities in 29 states, Canada and Ireland. It is currently selling off most of its California assets. Annual sales: $2.5 billion in 1996.
Products include oriented strand board (OSB) structural panels, siding, engineered I-joists, veneer, fiberboard, particleboard, lumber, insulation, cement fiber roofing, plywood, and chlorine-free pulp used to produce paper.
The company's Western Division headquartered in Samoa, Humboldt County grew to a peak of 3,600 employees in 1976 and dropped to 1,800 by 1996 when the company was reorganized.
Harry Merlo was born in 1925 in Butte County, Calif. to Italian immigrant parents. Following service in World War II, he graduated from UC Berkeley in 1949 and joined Rounds Lumber Co. in Cloverdale. Merlo rose to vice president and part owner before Rounds was bought by Georgia-Pacific Corp. in 1967 the same year Lois Busey began working for G-P in Humboldt County.
Until 1995 when he was fired, Merlo had been L-P's only president. According to Business Week magazine, Merlo was "a gifted if abrasive visionary (who) pushed relentlessly for ever higher productivity and ever lower costs and instilled a demanding, performance driven culture." The Wall Street Journal called him a "swashbuckler."
Below is a timeline of some L-P highlights to the present:
1971 -- G-P appoints Merlo executive vice president of its Western Timber, Plywood and Lumber Division.
1973 -- Under government pressure, G-P spins off 20 percent of its assets. L-P is formed and Merlo named president.
1974 Merlo appointed L-P chairman.
1978 -- L-P uses the Redwood National Park expansion money to buy timberland in Texas and California..
1980 -- Merlo receives Horatio Alger Association's Distinguished Americans Award as an industry leader in developing innovative building materials including OSB made from paper-thin slices of "weed" trees.
1985 -- L-P markets a version of OSB as Inner Seal house siding with a 25-year warranty. Some siding in moist climates begins to deteriorate, prompting lawsuits.
1986 -- L-P decertifies sawmill workers union after years of labor strife.
1989 -- L-P pays $2.3 million as result of Surfrider Foundation lawsuit over ocean discharge from the Samoa pulp mill.
1990 -- L-P builds a drying yard in Mexico and begins barging lumber south, a venture which eventually proved unprofitable.
1990 -- Redwood Summer protesters target L-P logging operations drawing national media attention.
1991 -- Leaked internal memos between Merlo and top Western Division executives confirm L-P has been overcutting North Coast timberlands.
1992 -- unexpectedly fires L-P Western Division Manager Joe Wheeler and replaces him with Bob Simpson, son of a retired L-P executive.
1994 -- L-P pulp mill is again listed as California's No. 1 industrial polluter of air, land and water, according to the EPA. However, data was collected prior to a multi-million upgrade that made the plant chlorine-free and the cleanest in the nation.
1995 -- An L-P plant in Colorado is indicted on conspiracy and fraud charges for tampering with emissions control equipment and falsifying pollution reports.
1995 -- is ousted as chief executive as lawsuits and federal probes mount.
1996 -- L-P settles defective siding lawsuit, agreeing to pay $275 million to homeowners.
1996 -- Suwyn is appointed as chief executive officer, claiming L-P will operate "with full regard for the environment."
1998 -- L-P divests of most California properties. Timberland and plants in Mendocino are sold to members of San Francisco's Fisher family, owners of The Gap clothing chain. Simpson Timber Co. purchases L-P Humboldt County timber and sawmill operations, the town of Samoa and the historic Cookhouse.
1998 -- Samoa pulp mill with its 230 employees is relisted for sale. L-P plans to retain ownership of the Arcata particleboard plant, soon-to-be the only L-P property on the North Coast.
1998 -- L-P pleaded guilty to fraud and environmental charges in federal court and agreed to pay $37 million in fines and other costs, including $5.5 million for violations of the federal Clean Air Act, the largest fine in U.S. history.
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