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Sierra Pacific holding steady in economy

Lincoln sawmill’s production same historically
By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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When the housing bubble burst late last decade, Sierra Pacific Industries did not experience any layoffs at its Lincoln plant. That’s according to Sierra Pacific spokesman Mark Luster, who said the Lincoln sawmill “didn’t get affected as much” by the burst. The News Messenger toured Lincoln’s Sierra Pacific sawmill with Luster on Feb. 24. Luster said three Sierra Pacific sawmills closed in 2008 and 2009. “Lincoln has been a very efficient sawmill and the location helps,” Luster said. “There are a number of factors that allowed the mill to continue to operate.” Those factors are the sawmill’s “proximity to resources and we can ship product from here to go to a number of places,” Luster said. As a company, Luster said, production went down but Lincoln’s facility has “produced the same as we did historically.” The plant was built in 1980 and currently has 350 employees, Luster said. Jobs range from entry-level positions for doing tasks such as cleaning, heavy equipment operators, office staff, professional foresters and cogeneration power plant operators. The plant has two sawmills and a cogeneration power plant, which Luster said has been operating for four years. To provide power to the plant, wood chips are burned to heat water, and Luster said, “the steam comes in at 900 degrees and turns the turbine.” The power plant creates enough electricity “to power 20,000 homes,” according to Luster. All the electricity used by Sierra Pacific is generated by the cogeneration power plant, according to Luster, and any remaining electricity is sold to PG&E. The wood chips used to heat the water to create electricity are what Luster called a “value-added product.” “Everything that comes in from the forest, we use 100 percent of the product,” Luster said. “Over 5,000 products are made using value-added products.” Luster said wood chips and sawdust are used to make cellulose, which is used in products including cleaners, shampoo, fingernail polish and parmesan cheese. “There are lots of things made out of wood products that we use on a daily basis,” Luster said. Luster said five different species of lumber are used in Sierra Pacific products: ponderosa pine, sugar pine, Douglas fir, white fir and cedar. The pine species are used for crown molding, doors, table tops and furniture. The fir species are used for “dimensional products, like framing and constructing buildings,” Luster said. Cedar is used for fence boards and to make pencils. Sierra Pacific does not make pencils but “pencil stock,” according to Luster. The trees are brought in via logging trucks and are stored on site in the log yard until they are ready to be used. A couple hundred of trucks pass through Lincoln during the summer, according to Luster in a previous story. “We put water on the logs because when the logs come in and sit in the sun, they start to dry out. If they start to dry out, they will crack, split and start to decay,” Luster said. “Fifty years ago, we used to put the logs in a pond but now we spray them instead of soak them.” The trees then get cut to length, go through a de-barker and metal detector, before going through a computer scanner. “It takes a picture of the log with a laser and then extrapolates the best possible breakdown of the log, based on the dimensions, to maximize the amount of wood products,” Luster said. The wood chips, sawdust and bark are captured to be used as value-added products, Luster said. The operator in the control room, or sawyer, “helps the computer make better decisions,” Luster said. Bob Newton, Sierra Pacific’s head sawyer, said he “loves everything” about his job that has held for 20 years. “I enjoy the challenge of running the machine and seeing how much I can cut every day,” Newton said. “If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t do it.” The pieces of cut lumber then go to the gain saw, where they again go through a laser scanner to be cut, “maximizing each piece.” The boards get edged and then are surfaced, followed by a trip to a dry kiln, which Luster said is to “extract inner cellular water.” It could take anywhere from five days to six months for logs to go from the log yard to finished product, Luster said.