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Alcoa To Idle Ferndale and Wenatchee Aluminum Smelters

This satellite view shows Alcoa Wenatchee Works on the banks of the Columbia River, just upstream from Rock Island Dam in Washington state.

Alcoa announced Monday it will curtail major parts of its aluminum operations in Wenatchee and Ferndale, Washington. The move will likely leave hundreds of people looking for work.

"Alcoa has a long, proud history at the affected locations," said Alcoa vice president Roy Harvey in a statement released Monday. "We recognize how deeply these decisions affect our Alcoa family and communities and are committed to working closely with our employees and unions and local stakeholders to support them through this transition."

Aluminum is an old business in the Northwest. During World War II the government had plants in Tacoma and Spokane that were later sold to private firms. The industry was fueled by the Northwest’s cheap hydroelectric energy.

Lately Northwest-based plants haven’t been able to compete with newer, much-larger plants in India and China. They have access to less-expensive energy and cheaper labor. Plus, aluminum prices have been dipping and a surplus of material has been accumulating around the world.

It all adds up to a tough market for Ferndale and Wenatchee’s aging plants. Ferndale has run since 1966, Wenatchee since 1952. Alcoa said its curtailments would start by the end of 2015 and would be completed by March.

Alcoa employs more than 1,000 people in Washington. Governor Jay Inslee said in a statement that the state will do everything it can to assist workers and their families.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.