Photo by David Rauzi
Blue North Forest Products at Kamiah.
As of Tuesday, May 10, 2016
KAMIAH With very little advance notice, more than five-dozen mill workers got the word from Blue North Forest Products ownership May 3: that the mill is closing, that market forces have swallowed up the business, and that unlike the other times the plant has shut down, this time, “this is the end.”
Last week, the Free Press reported buyer Idaho Forest Group anticipates the sale will be complete by mid-month.
“I’m deeply disappointed the mill’s demise has to take place on my watch,” Blue North owner Michael Burns wrote in a letter to all employees, in which he also wrote that he “knew nothing about the sawmill business” but “felt an affinity for the wood business and the work culture of a mill town with a history going back to the 1940s.”
The letter notes Burns “couldn’t sustain any more losses” amid “problems trying to buy enough logs to keep the mill busy” as well as new lows to which competition from Canada has driven the price of lumber.
According to the Burns letter, the buyer intends “to dismantle the mill,” which Idaho Forest Group has so far neither confirmed nor denied.
“Closing is subject to due diligence,” Shannon Fuchs, manager for IFG’s Grangeville mill, reiterated to the Free Press Tuesday morning, May 10. Further information – such as IFG’s plans for the facility — remains limited, Fuchs explained, until the purchase is complete.
Idaho County Commissioner Skip Brandt called IFG’s intentions “apparent” in an interview with the Free Press last Monday, May 9, in which he said IFG aims to “sterilize” the site, a move which he described as the end of an era of competition for local timber.
“It’s disappointing to lose another mill, which gets back to the issue of land management,” Brandt said. “We’re losing another mill because we don’t have enough logs, yet how many will burn this summer? And I have a concern with there being one main mill with a monopoly over the existing logs. Whether it’s private lands or state endowment lands or federal lands, land managers now won’t be putting those logs up for bid. They’ll be asking how much Idaho Forest Group would be willing to pay for them.”
IFG will continue to bid competitively, as has been its practice.
“Logs have and always will flow to the highest bidder,” Fuchs said. “We strive to be the most efficient operators we can be so that we can maximize the value we pay for logs and the return to the landowner.”
Spurring greater flow of timber from federal land has long been an Idaho County Commission priority, under Brandt’s chairmanship and more recently under Jim Chmelik’s.
“I don’t hold any of this against IFG,” Chmelik said Tuesday afternoon, May 10. “We need more access to federal land. I have the same concern for IFG, because we can’t lose any more mills and I don’t know how long IFG can sustain this model without access to more logs.”