Mendocino Humboldt Redwood Company, LLC


Scotia’s uncertain future weighs on residents

By Ryan Burns
The Times-Standard
April 8, 2008

SCOTIA — Looking out the window of her beauty parlor on Main Street, 59-year-old Melba Jones saw a much different town than the one she grew up in.

“This is what gets me,” she said, pointing out to the empty street. Three cars were parked in the lot of the town’s lone shopping center, but no customers could be seen. A crossing guard stood at the crosswalk in case any school children came along, but none did.

“It’s just dead,” Jones said.

With its quaint cookie-cutter houses surrounding a giant lumber mill, Scotia is still every inch a company town — one of the few left in the country. But the company in question — Pacific Lumber Co. — is now mired in debt, with creditors and rival companies fighting over the remaining pieces this week in bankruptcy proceedings taking place in Corpus Christi, Texas.

A town that began as a 19th century logging camp and reached its zenith in the boom logging years of the 1940s and ’50s is now facing an uncertain future, and the residents who remain are concerned about what that future holds.

“I think it has a lot to offer,” said Jones, sitting with friends in her otherwise empty beauty parlor. “Look at how many times Bridgeville has sold. We have the (Winema) theater, the gym. It has potential.”

Mendocino Redwood Co. agrees with Jones’ assessment and has submitted a plan to take over Palco’s operations, reduce the rate of logging and allow Scotia residents to buy their homes.

Glenn Bernald likes the idea.

“They’d probably be a bit more environmentally conscious than Palco’s been in the past,” said Bernald, a former Palco employee who still resides in Scotia. “If they decide to sell the houses, it might be a good thing. People in this town could be homeowners. And it would be good for the county, too, because maybe they could get some taxes from it.”

But many responsibilities would remain. All aspects of the town’s operations are currently run by Palco, and whomever takes ownership will either have to bear those responsibilities or find someone who can.

“The company needs to remain operative,” said Frank Wilson, a former resident who still leases property in Scotia. “At best, this would be some kind of rental community if you didn’t do that. You’ve got the river system, the water pumps, the sewer system; all of these things are controlled and really work together because the company is here as an industrial base.”

Peggy Hartley-Rice was a schoolteacher here in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She remembers the town as a bustling, vibrant community and sees the takeover of Palco by Charles Hurwitz and the MAXXAM Corporation in 1986 as a key turning point.

“In the late ’60s … the town was alive,” she said. “People had loyalty to the company, but the company also earned that loyalty.”

Looking around the town Monday afternoon, she could hardly believe the difference.

“I can’t get over the lack of people and the lack of action,” she said. “It’s just so sad.”

Many residents, like Scotia Inn desk clerk Robert Rodgers, are anxious to find out what comes next.

“A lot of people have questions about what the future’s going to hold,” said Rodgers. Like all other buildings in town save the post office, the inn is owned by Palco, and residents are well aware of that fact.

“We don’t know if we’re gonna have our jobs next week or not,” said Rodgers.

Many locals see a change in ownership as the most promising option left for Scotia, a town that has definitely seen better days.

“I’m hoping that Mendocino Redwood gets it, and I think most people want that because of their track record in Mendocino County,” Hartley-Rice said. She took another mournful look at the empty street and said, “They’re looking to the future.”

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