Ketchikan seeks veneer mill operator

Posted: Thursday, April 08, 2004

KETCHIKAN - Wanted: a new operator for a failed veneer plant at Ketchikan's Ward Cove.

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough has contacted veneer operators in Washington, Oregon and California who might be interested in running the mill it bought after Gateway Forest Products went bankrupt in 2001.

Last week the borough issued a request for proposals with an April 30 deadline.

"Given the equipment we have out there, we don't want it to sit through another winter without it being operational," borough manager Roy Eckert said. "The equipment is too valuable to just sit and rust."

Eckert said the goal is to get the veneer plant running as soon as possible, especially with pending timber sales on Gravina Island.

"If we don't get any (proposals) back, then obviously we'll have to consider our options about whether or not to sell the machinery," he told the Ketchikan Daily News.

Roger Rutan, vice president of marketing for Springfield, Ore.-based Timber Products Co., said the company continues to consider Ketchikan's veneer operation.

"We're looking at a number of different levels of involvement," Rutan said. "They're all still on the table."

Timber Products was the target of a recent phone campaign by environmentalists.

More than 1,000 people called the company over three days last week to urge it to stay away from the Tongass National Forest, according to Alaska Coalition executive director Tim Bristol. The Alaska Coalition and the Alaska Rainforest Campaign were involved in the call-in.

Eckert said he didn't think the phone campaign would scare potential veneer operators away.

Wood supply, however, is an issue, he said. The mill would need about 30 million board feet of veneer grade wood a year to operate.

Meanwhile, the borough is pursuing construction of a road on Gravina Island, which Eckert said is tied to pending Gravina timber sales and the veneer plant.

"When they start logging, we want to have the road ready and we need to have the veneer plant up and going," he said. "It's coming down to crunch time and we're under pressure to find a way to make it happen. Necessity is the mother of invention and we have the necessity to get it done so we'll find a way."

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