In Raymond, Wash., a lumber mill owned by the Port of Willapa Harbor sits abandoned. Piles of alder seem stuck in time after being cut and dried, but never quite making it to shipment to become the products they were intended for.
Last month, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz made good on her promise to use the resources of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to support development solutions for rural Washingtonians when she announced this mill’s reopening as one of four initial Rural Communities Partnership Initiative efforts.
DNR is partnering with the state legislature to make a $1.4 million investment to get the mill, which closed in 2017, back up and running – maybe with the use of renewable energy.
“For too many in our rural economies, the status quo isn’t working,” said Commissioner Franz. “People are hurting, but they are resilient. And we are investing in our people.”
Phase 1: A New, Old Mill for Pacific County
DNR, in partnership with the state legislature, is granting $1.4 million for the Port of Willapa Harbor to retrofit and lease an existing mill beginning in 2019. Alder wood is versatile and a wide variety of regional businesses will be able to use the mill’s wood products. Mill retrofits will allow the mill to make use of small diameter alder wood logs, which grows well throughout the region.
“This project will have a positive impact on our community and our state,” said State Senator Dean Takko (D-Longview). “By reopening a hardwood mill, we are creating jobs and a new supply of locally-sourced wood products.”
“By reopening a hardwood mill, we are creating jobs and a new supply of locally-sourced wood products.” ~State Senator Dean Takko
Known as “New Pacific Hardwood,” this venture in Pacific County will generate an estimated 49 new jobs – in an area with the third highest unemployment rate in the state. And, each year, the mill will make spend $9.5 million to purchase logs from a variety of local landowners and generate $98,000 in taxes for public services.
“This is what rural community partnership is about – putting lumber mill workers back to work making products out of sustainably harvested trees,” said Commissioner Franz.
About DNR and Timber Lands
The agency knows a good deal about producing locally sourced timber to meet the growing need for wood products in Washington’s urban communities.
Commissioner Franz and her staff manage 3 million acres of state-owned trust lands. Much of that land is forested and managed for timber harvests, though Commissioner Franz’s management of these lands also ensures ongoing access for recreation, forested watersheds for clean water, important wildlife habitat, and wildfire protections via the state’s largest on-call fire department.
Revenue from the timber that comes from state trust lands helps fund construction of public schools statewide and supports state universities, prisons and other institutions, along with public services in many counties.
DNR timber carries SFI sustainability certification and is only sold to mills here in the United States, primarily within Washington to serve customers like you. The New Pacific Hardwood mill will have to compete for these homegrown DNR logs, just as any other mill would.
Yet, timber isn’t the only natural resources DNR has the ability to leverage. DNR resources could also supply materials for renewable energy.
Phase 2: A Port of Willapa Harbor Energy Innovation District
The second part of the project will have DNR working with the Port of Willapa Harbor and Evergreen State College Center for Sustainable Infrastructure to determine the economic feasibility of an energy innovation district.
An energy innovation district would co-locate new and current assets at the Port or Willapa Harbor to allow businesses to share energy and reuse waste streams, which could attract new and existing business to locate here.
“The Port of Willapa Harbor seeks to be a conduit for economic opportunities – whether that means timber or renewable fuel sources,” said Rebecca Chaffee, Manager, Port of Willapa Harbor. “More mill jobs right away is a big deal. And, the potential of an energy innovation district – when we have ready access to wood, agricultural waste and other renewable natural resources and byproducts – is a game-changer.”
“The Port of Willapa Harbor seeks to be a conduit for economic opportunities.” ~Port of Willapa Harbor Manager Rebecca Chaffee
DNR will administer a $100,000 grant to Center for Sustainable Infrastructure for this work. Other communities with ready access to forest and agriculture resources or waste streams will be able to use this work to assess their renewable energy options, as well.
About the Rural Communities Partnership Initiative
As part of Commissioner Franz’s Rural Communities Partnership Initiative, DNR solicited economic development ideas from rural communities across the state, receiving more than 80 proposals.
“Communities know best what they need, but often lack the resources for economic initiatives. If you have a good idea, let me know,” says Franz. “Because my agency is investing in good ideas. And by investing in rural Washingtonians – by supporting community-driven economic development – we are creating lasting and sustainable opportunity.”
“Communities know best what they need, but often lack the resources for economic initiatives… by investing in rural Washingtonians – by supporting community-driven economic development – we are creating lasting and sustainable opportunity.” ~Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz
The mill is just one of the projects initially selected. More are on the horizon and the agency continues to take on new proposals.
“We’re incredibly excited to bring these projects, and more, to fruition to drive positive impacts for communities,” said Josh Wilund, DNR Senior Strategic Advisor.
According to Wilund, proposals should be for sustainable projects that offer long-term solutions, make use of renewable natural resources, maintain biodiversity, support ecological systems or provide communities with multi-generational economic opportunities.
A city council, chamber of commerce, DNR employee, county leadership, tribal government, local organization or businesses may submit projects. There is no minimum requirement, however projects should intersect with DNR’s lands and people, and be geared toward creating hard economic value in local communities.