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Canton paper mill closure creates mixed emotions in Tennessee and North Carolina

The closure will leave many people in Canton, N.C. without jobs, but at the same time will cut back on pollution downriver in TN that has been fought for decades.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Emotions are high near the Tennessee and North Carolina state line after a paper mill that's more than a century old announced this week it will close.

Pactiv Evergreen, the company that owns the mill, announced in its fourth-quarter 2022 report that it was planning to close the mill as the company takes "significant restructuring actions related to its beverage merchandising operations."

News of the closure leaves people in Canton, North Carolina without jobs, but at the same time cuts back on pollution downriver in Tennessee that people have fought to eliminate for decades. It brought mixed responses from both sides of the state line.

The Canton paper mill in North Carolina is along the Pigeon River about 40 miles away from the Tennessee-North Carolina state line.

People in Tennessee said the river has taken a hit from wastewater pollution from the plant over many decades. For environmentalists and river users, the closure is coming as good news.

Briggs Gilliam is a whitewater raft guide. For about thirty years he has guided visitors on the river. He said he has seen the water change a lot during that time. He hopes the paper mill closing will bring another change. 

"This is huge. We've always had the reputation of having pollution in our water and now it's gonna clean up and we're gonna get even more visitation as a result in this area," Gilliam said. 

He said the Pigeon River is one of the most visited whitewater destinations in the country, saying he hopes cleaner water will mean more visitors and more business for towns along the river. 

He said within just weeks of the shutdown they expect to see an improvement.

As for people in Canton, they are mourning the closure and the impact it will have on their community. About 1,300 employees will lose their jobs.

For 115 years the mill has played a central role in the community. For families there, the mill has provided them with business, employment and security. They said the mill is generational for the town.

"My father worked there. I had an uncle at work there. I've got two brothers that are working there now, a nephew and my son works there. And several cousins," Jerry Hoglen said. 

The company will also close its operation in Ohio. Both mills will close by early summer of this year.

The future of the historic mill and the site are not known yet. The mayor of Canton is working to help mill workers find new jobs.

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