When the Forest Service decided to exempt the Tongass from the roadless policy, Undersecretary Mark Rey said it was to support Southeast Alaska mills like Gateway Forest Products. I worked at the pulp mill and Gateway for 13 years, and Mr. Rey needs to know that Gateway Forest Products hasn't been in operation since November 2001. We were told at the sawmill time and time again that we were laid off because they "didn't have the quality of logs" or "enough logs" needed to operate. I'm wondering now if maybe they exported the wrong ones, or just too many. All the forklifts, loaders and log processing line equipment necessary for a functioning veneer plant were auctioned off in July 2002. All that remains of the sawmill is the shell of the building.
If exempting the Tongass from the roadless rule is for the sole purpose of keeping six to eight mills on the Tongass running, this would be great, but where are these mills? Exempting the Tongass from the roadless rule is just a ploy to keep exporting Alaska timber.
Don't get me wrong, I am not against logging or having a timber industry. I have to give credit to the former owners of GFP for trying to make a go of a new timber operation. But local folks cannot compete with the export of logs. Until the export of whole logs is stopped, any attempt by any Alaskans to build or operate a timber industry is pointless. We can't compete with the export industry. You can't make a living selling eggs when you're eating chicken every night, and you can't have a timber industry with jobs for locals when you're exporting all your logs.
Adding insult to injury, timber is being loaded and exported from Ward Cove, just 150 yards from the sawmill where we used to work. If the export industry had been stopped years ago, then my friends and I would still be working in the timber industry.