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Park Falls paper mill back in business

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PARK FALLS -- The city of Park Falls held a celebration Monday because the community's biggest employer was back in business, and 300 local workers were back on the job.

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Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, looked out at the hundreds of people assembled in front of the headquarters of Flambeau River Papers and directed their attention to a smokestack. He said the white smoke billowing from the stack "symbolizes hope, and a new era, a renewal, and happiness for a community."

The smoke coming from the tower at the old Smart Papers plant was a victory for the legislature, a victory for the people of Park Falls, and a victory for Gov. Jim Doyle.

The deal worked out by the governor and the legislature provides a $4 million loan and reopens the plant under local ownership.

Doyle says he's excited that the mill will produce not just paper but also ethanol. He says if the company could find another use for the pulp, including the creation of ethanol, that would be enormously helpful.

He says the hope is to be able to take this story, which he says is already a fairy tale story, and turn it into something that's even better than that.

But if the governor was optimistic, the man who led the local investors in the fairy tale story was restrained and humble.

Butch Johnson says he understands that an entire community is depending on him, but now, the new owner of Flambeau River Papers is nothing but a hero to the people of Park Falls and to the 300 people here who almost lost their jobs.

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