Taking a positive long-range view of lumber markets nationwide, SDS Lumber Co. in Bingen has applied for construction permits for expansion of its stud mill in Bingen.
If all goes as hoped, the addition of a second sawing line in the stud mill could be finished by summer of 2003.
"We're in the first phase of construction of mill expansion," said Jason Spadaro, president of SDS. "We're waiting on final DOE [Washington Department of Ecology] permits."
When completed, the facility could employ as many as 20 new full-time workers -- good news for a county recently beset by the highest unemployment rates in the state.
"The new sawmill should add seven or eight full time positions initially, and when we're all done, 20 employees," Spadaro said.
According to Spadaro, the initial phase involves projects that will help to relieve bottlenecks in current production via new lumber handling and sorting systems, as well as construction of a second dry kiln for drying dimensional lumber.
The kiln will be heated with steam.
"The new sawing line will be in the same general location as the existing lumber mill," Spadaro explained. "The new kiln is adjacent to the existing kiln."
The stud mill expansion would help offset losses of plywood jobs. In January 2002, SDS laid off 75 workers in the plywood plant and curtailed plywood production. The plywood operation is currently producing at 40 percent of capacity.
"We never shut it down, but it depends on the markets," Spadaro explained. "We have maintained veneer and some plywood production. But all the markets are weak."
Workers who were laid off are likely to be given priority for rehiring in the stud mill.
Spadaro said SDS planned to maintain a positive outlook, and the stud mill project was symbolic of that approach.
"The plywood market is at historic lows," he said. "Lumber is not good at the moment, and the economy is fragile. But we're looking at this as an opportunity to expand, and we'll be ready when the market returns."
Spadaro pointed out that the new stud mill would give SDS more flexibility in the marketplace.
"We'll be able to process larger diameter logs for production of veneer or production of lumber," Spadaro said. "It will allow us to diversify lumber production: Our goal is to go to 6x6s."
Spadaro added that he expected to have the necessary construction and DOE permits in hand soon.
DOE representatives have already determined that the stud mill/kiln proposal "does not have a probable significant adverse impact on the environment."
"The project will be required to use best available control technology, as defined in the notice of construction air quality permit," noted Bob Swackhamer of DOE.
Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel was happy to see SDS planning for expansion after the recent cutbacks.
"The SDS stud mill is only 15 years old," said Prigel. "It was built with space for a second line, and they're going to install that. I'm sure it'll bring a few jobs."
SDS currently employs 240 workers, and is one of the largest employers in Klickitat County.