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Wednesday, September 27, 2000

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Darkness fell upon the Paia sugar mill yesterday
on the last night of operations.

Paia Sugar
Mill Closes

Workers', residents'
sweet memories

By Gary T. Kubota

PAIA, Maui -- His grandchildren call him the cloud maker, likening the smoke floating from Paia sugar mill's smokestack to dream clouds drifting across Maui skies.

For machinist Dan Rather, the mill has helped to make his dreams come true.

"I raised five kids," said Rather, 50. "This job enabled me to put them through college."

Late last night, the smoke stopped rising from the mill, as Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. discontinued more than 125 years of sugar production in Paia.

By Gary T. Kubota, Star-Bulletin
Dan Rather, a sugar mill machinist, finds
the mill's closing and Paia's changing
lifestyle "a real disappointment."

Citing the need to cut costs to compete with foreign sugar companies, Hawaiian Commercial plans to consolidate production of its 37,000 acres of sugar cane land under its remaining mill at Puunene.

Hawaiian Commercial's general manager, Stephen Holaday, said that while the mill continues to produce 1.25 million pounds of sugar a day, revenues have dropped about 25 percent to $62 million annually.

The company anticipates hiring 40 employees in its expansion at Puunene and believes most of the remaining workers laid off in the Paia closing will qualify for retirement.

The mill, which once had a foundry where it made its own nuts and bolts, offered many Maui residents the opportunity to learn an industrial trade while working as an apprentice.

During the early 1900s, Paia had a network of employee camps around the mill.

The plantation served as a foothold for contract immigrant workers to obtain a job and entry into the United States.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Quality control was utmost to the end at the Paia sugar mill.
Martin Garicia, lead sugar boiler, made sure the brown
unrefined sugar was crystallizing properly
yesterday on the last day of operations.

Residents say the Paia mill will be remembered for the way its employees and their families worked together to create a community, with neighbors helping neighbors and fostering strong family values.

"I'm really going to miss the people," said mill manager Brian Ross.

"The people here have a lot of aloha spirit. They're really more of a family than a workplace here."

ILWU business agent William Kennison said: "To me it's more than a mill closing -- it's a way of life. A job's a job, but they built their lives around it."

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Miguel Galicia, a sugar boiler and mechanic, had been a
Paia sugar mill employee for 29 years. He watched the final
product, brown sugar, moving along a conveyor
up to a silo for shipment.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Steam rose from the machinery of the Paia sugar mill one
last time as sugar boiler and mechanic of
29 years Miguel Galicia looked on.

Paia is changing, growing more trendy and catering more to visitors, with more windsurfers and short-term residents living in town.

Residents say they are saddened by the closing of the mill and what they see as the gradual shift away from a slow-paced agricultural economy where people worked and socialized together.

"It's a real disappointment," said Rather, who lives in lower Paia. "They know they're not going to lose their jobs, but it's still upsetting."

Rather said that when he began working at the mill about 21 years ago, he did not have a car but he did have good neighbors.

"The guy across the street gave me a car. He said, 'Pay when you can.' I didn't even know him that well," Rather recalled.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Jose Ruiz, an electrician of nine years, kept things running
smoothly in the boiler room on the last day of operations.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Paia sugar mill employee of 12 years Hilarion Badua,
who started as a truck driver with the mill, closed it as
a bulldozer driver yesterday in the bagasse room.

Mill employees went fishing together after work. Residents had "mortgage parties" to help raise money for neighbors who had problems meeting payments.

Neighbors visited occasionally to drop off vegetables raised in backyard gardens.

Rather said employees have worked as volunteers to create a haunted house at the Paia Community Center during Halloween and helped neighboring schools with electrical and plumbing problems.

"I really felt we were part of this community, and I think the community is going to miss us being around," Rather said.

Mill workers will be cleaning the plant this week. A final goodbye party is scheduled for Oct. 6.

Ross said the company plans to keep the Paia mill "in mothballs" for a year, as a potential backup to the Puunene mill.

"After that, we'll see," he said.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Apprentice sugar boiler mechanic Leo Baet hopes he will be
moved to another mill after the closure of the Paia mill.

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