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Kake business wins Forest Service contract

Posted: September 17, 2012 - 9:42pm  |  Updated: September 18, 2012 - 12:06am

In a real-world expression of the U.S. Forest Service’s transition framework a Kake business has received a stewardship contract for road and bridge maintenance in the Tongass National Forest near Kake.

According to a Forest Service project synopsis, the Little John Stewardship project originally included a timber sale component of about 220 million board feet of spruce, hemlock, yellow cedar and utility wood. The remaining restoration work includes installation of untreated 3-inch-by-12-inch wood planks on bridges and the installation of culverts on existing Forest Service roads near Kake. The planks and culverts are supplied by the U.S. Forest Service.

CSC Tree Service, owned by Luther Coby won the $26,050 contract. CSC is located in Kake.

Coby said he stayed away from the initial bid for a timber sale and road maintenance due to the poor grade timber. With the revised contract, Coby was able to put one employee to work to help with installing the planked bridge decking supplied by the Forest Service. He said he was also able to hire a Kake local to run an excavator for installing culverts.

“It’s about a week’s worth of work,” Colby said.

On top of local hire, Coby said he buys his fuel in Kake, and is renting a dump truck in Kake as well.

“So a lot of the money will be spent right in Kake,” Coby said.

He said he’ll have to rent a “Jumping Jack” compactor from Petersburg.

“I try to spread it around,” Coby said.

Coby has run his tree-thinning business for a decade. He buys his saws in Southeast and buys all the food for his tree thinning camps from local businesses. However, due to the low-margin nature of the tree thinning business he must hire workers from outside.

The Forest Service contract work is located close to Kake, 12 miles for the closest work and the farthest part is 16 miles, Coby said.

“Just enough time to get comfortable in your truck,” Coby said.

To cut down on the initial investment for Coby’s business, the Forest Service bought the culverts for road repair and the wood planking for the bridge. The arrangement also saved money on the project.

Though the contract eschews a timber sale, Coby said he will have time this winter to see if there is a market for the wood.

Coby said he is trying to branch his business out from tree thinning. The work is hard and keeps him away from home, he said.  He said he spends a lot of time riding ferries and flying around Southeast.

“I have a baby boy at home,” Coby said. “You’ve got to be moving acres and pulling hard. You only have a five- to six-months working season before the weather gets bad.” Tree thinning camps are just army tents pitched out in the woods. “You can’t ever get totally dry.”

Coby said he would prefer his business procure more contracts installing culverts, doing road repair and working timber sales. He said he would need steady work to make the investments in heavy equipment, $30,000 to $40,000 for an excavator.

One business idea Coby has is buy a firewood processor and drying building to process the six-inch to 12-inch timber that most mills don’t want.

“Fill that baby up and let it season for a couple years,” Coby said. “Why are we buying firewood from Canada when we have thousands and thousand of board feet in Southeast?” He said he could offer year-round employment to log the trees, cut the firewood and, in the winter, put the cords on pallets.

Coby said he likes the idea of putting local business and local contractors to work.

“I’m glad they are doing this local stewardship stuff,” Coby said. “Doesn’t make sense to have equipment sitting in Kake and hire someone from Sitka to come up here and do this stuff.”

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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