Rayonier to split timber, chemicals business

Rayonier Inc., a global forest products company with major manufacturing operations in South Georgia, plans to separate its timber and chemicals business.

The Jacksonville, Fla.-based company said one business, which will retain the name Rayonier, will be made up of its current Forest Resources and Real Estate businesses. Rayonier owns, manages or leases 716,620 acres of woodland in the state. The timber is mainly used to produce containerboard, paper products and sawtimber, for construction and furniture.

The other company will consist of its Performance Fibers chemicals business, which has a major plant in Jesup. The name of that business has not been decided. The plant turns wood chips into specialty cellulose used to make TV and computer screens, impact-resistant plastics, tires, paint and food.

Environmentalists have accused the Jesup plant of polluting the Altamaha River with untreated discharges, violating state and federal rules.

Deborah Sheppard, executive director of Altamaha Riverkeeper, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the group continues to hold talks with Rayonier and is determining whether to file a lawsuit.

“They have a responsibility to the public that they are not currently making good on,” Sheppard said. “They continue to perform in a way that pollutes Georgia’s greatest river system.”

Rayonier spokesman Russell Schweiss said the controversy “is not even a factor” in the decision to spin off Performance Fibers, which employs more than 800 people in Jesup. “We’ve always been in full compliance with our permit there,” Schweiss told the AJC.

Chairman Paul Boynton said Rayonier had been considering a separation of the businesses for two years.

“With an improving U.S. housing market, strong timber export markets and the successful expansion of our cellulose specialties capacity, we concluded that now is the optimal time to pursue the separation of these two non-integrated businesses,” said Boynton said in announcing the split.

The company owns timberlands across North America and New Zealand, and it said it will be using a portion of the land for residential, commercial and industrial construction. Rayonier said 200,000 of its 2.6 million acres of timberland are suited for real estate development along the Georgia and Florida coasts.

In Georgia, Rayonier has chip mills in Offerman, Eastman and Barnesville, and a regeneration center in Glennville, where the company grows genetically improved seedlingsfor replanting. Last year, the company sold its Wood Products business, including three lumber mills in Baxley, Swainsboro and Eatonton, to International Forest Products for $80 million.

Rayonier also has a cellulose specialties plant in Fernandina Beach, Fla.

Both Rayonier and the new Performance Fibers company will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.