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SPI mill closures won't affect Lincoln

By: Brandon Darnell, News Messenger Reporter
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Despite Sierra Pacific Industries’ closure of three sawmills this week in California, the Lincoln sawmill will not be affected, according to Mark Luster, the company’s spokesman. A total of about 460 employees will be laid off as mills in Quincy, Sonora and Camino are shut down, Luster said. Lincoln’s mill, which employs approximately 350 workers, will continue operating at its current levels, Luster said. “We are deeply saddened over this announcement, as many hard-working, dedicated employees who have been with the company for a long time will be unemployed,” said Sierra Pacific Industries’ Area Manager Matt Taborski in a press release sent out in early March. “We’re saddened to see any community lose an employee-based company and we’re glad to hear that Lincoln is still going strong,” said Steve Art, economic and redevelopment manager for the city of Lincoln. Art said the local sawmill has always been a good corporate neighbor and supports community organizations such as the Lincoln Area Chamber of Commerce. “It’s very important that the Lincoln mill stays open,” said David Stewart, truck supervisor at the mill. “The economy in those towns is really taking a hit.” Stewart said there isn’t much else to do in Quincy outside of working for Sierra Pacific Industries. Lincoln’s mill is one of the largest for SPI, according to Stewart. “Lincoln will be inheriting some trucks from Camino so we’ll get a little busier,” Stewart said. Although Sierra Pacific Industries considers the shutdown permanent, the equipment will not be sold but “mothballed” or put in long-term storage for future use, Luster said. The Quincy mill is very similar to Lincoln’s mill as it consists of two sawmills – a large-diameter mill and a small-diameter mill. Quincy’s small-diameter mill is shutting down, leaving about 60 workers employed to operate the large-diameter mill that will remain in operation. The mills at Sonora and Camino are smaller, with Sonora operating only a large-diameter mill and Camino operating only a small-diameter mill. The shutdown, although scheduled for this past Monday, will take some time to become effective, as there are still logs to be sawed before the mills close, according to Luster. The cause of the closures is what Luster called a “perfect storm.” Lumber prices below 1991 levels coupled with a flagging log supply and the expense of operating in California all played a part in bringing the industry to its current state, he explained. Environmental litigation is another of the factors Sierra Pacific Industries cited in the March press release about the Quincy closure. Currently, Luster said, more than 400-million board feet of lumber are tied up in litigation – which is enough to keep five sawmills busy for a year. One board foot, according to woodweb.com, is equal to a piece of lumber that is one foot wide by one foot long by one inch thick. In the El Dorado National Forest, Luster said about 24-million board feet of lumber is harvested per year. That’s a sharp decline from the approximately 185-million board feet harvested 20 years ago. Despite images of clear cutting and some of the damaging practices of the past century, Luster said today’s reality is the opposite, and that logging is necessary to properly thin the forests and help prevent catastrophic wildfires. Sierra Pacific Industries is a third-generation, family-owned forest-products company based in Anderson, with nearly 1.9-million acres of timberland in California and Washington, making it the second-largest producer of lumber in the country, according to the press release in March. Brandon Darnell can be reached by e-mail at brandond@goldcountrymedia.com.