Aluminum plant history extends back to ‘50s

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In September 1954, Pot Room No. 3 was under construction at the Anaconda Aluminum Co. plant near Columbia Falls. Each of the four pot rooms was 1,180 feet long, 90 feet wide and required 1,500 tons of structural steel. The T-shaped concrete structures would support the anodes for the reduction pots. 

Following is a brief history of the aluminum plant near Columbia Falls. The permanent closure of the plant was announced Tuesday by Columbia Falls Aluminum Co.

  •  Harvey Machine Co. acquired options for an aluminum plant in the Flathead in 1949 and purchased 1,000 acres north of Kalispell at Rose Crossing. Harvey was unable to obtain financing to build the plant, so in 1951 Anaconda Copper Mining Co. acquired 95 percent of Harvey’s interests
  •  On Aug. 30, 1952, Anaconda announced that it would build its aluminum reduction plant 2 miles northeast of Columbia Falls near Teakettle Mountain.
  •  Plant came on line on Aug. 12, 1955, with two potlines. It was built for $65 million. Initial capacity was 67,500 metric tons a year.
  •  Expansions during 1965 and 1968 increased capacity to 180,000 tons from five potlines. 
  •  During 1976, the Sumitomo process technology was added at a cost of $42 million.
  •  Atlantic Richfield Co. purchased the facility during 1977 but began divesting its metals division six years later. 
  •  Montana Aluminum Investors Corp., headed by Brack Duker, a former ARCO officer, purchased the plant during 1985.
  • At that time, ARCO was threatening to close the plant because of high electricity costs and low metal prices. Duker acquired the plant for a token $1 plus $3 million for inventory.
  •  Duker reorganized the company, trimming the work force and wages in exchange for a 50-50 profit-sharing plan.
  •  Profits were divided almost evenly for three years, with owners taking $29 million and workers receiving $27 million. Then the workers’ share began drying up.
  •  Class-action lawsuits filed during 1992 alleged that employees received $84.2 million during the previous six years while Duker and minority owner Jerome Broussard took in $231.4 million. 
  •  Duker stepped down from active management and left the area in 1993.
  •  Profit-sharing lawsuits were settled for $97 million in 1998.
  •  In May 1999, plant was acquired by Glencore AG, a Swiss metals-trading firm.
  •  Production curtailments begin in September 2000. 
  •  January 2001: For the first time since it came on line 46 years earlier, the entire plant was idled. 
  •  March 2002: Production started up again; by May, three potlines are producing aluminum.
  •  For the next seven years, the plant’s production ranged from 10 to 60 percent of capacity.  
  •  October 2009: CFAC shuts down.
  •  March 2, 2015: CFAC announces plant is permanently closed.

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