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Emerald Forest Products makes Emmett a mill town

Dick Vinson is believable when he talks about the positive outlook for Emerald Forest Products, a sizable mill gearing up in Emmett.

The 73-year-old majority owner, who lives in Thompson Falls, Mont., comes to Emmett every week to work on the new mill.

Vinson knows the ups and downs of the business. He was forced to mothball a plant he owns in Trout Creek, Mont., because of a lack of available timber.

One competitive advantage for Emerald is, unlike many companies, it does not have a supply of logs purchased at pre-2006 highs, he said.

Situated on a location – “just begging for a mill here since Boise Cascade pulled out [in 2001]” – about 120 miles from a mill in Tamarack, and 170 miles from a mill in Elgin, Ore., Emerald is close to a large local population base with access to other markets in the region. Beck Group Consulting, of Portland, completed a study that concluded the Emerald location and plan have good prospects, Vinson said.

Test runs and some phased production increases began at Emerald this month. All operations are expected to be online in June, and up to full capacity in four months, he said. At full production, Emerald could employ 47 in a single shift, he said. Forty-four people, including construction personnel, are working on the site now.

Vinson said one school of thought is that production costs are lower with two shifts, “but you have to go farther for logs, so your log costs are higher.”

Emerald, 500 W. Main St., Emmett, will produce studs, pine boards, furring strips for concrete basements (available at The Home Depot in the region) and quality laminated beam stock for Boise Cascade’s adjacent glue-laminated beam plant. Emerald is making 4-by-4 inch timbers, which many mills can’t cut, Vinson said.

Paw-Taw-John Services of Rathdrum supplied optimization equipment that uses computer scanning for precision cutting of each log, he said.

Various sizes of bark for landscaping and dust-free shavings for animal bedding will be a side product, as logs are de-barked in part to meet paper company specifications, he said.

Yellowstone Power, a sister company to Emerald, plans a 10-megawatt biomass power plant on the mill property. Synergies include using waste heat to dry lumber and shavings instead of sending it through a traditional stack, he said. Yellowstone is expecting to sell power to Idaho Power.

Emerald has three forest-thinning “stewardship” contracts to supply the renewable-energy operation. Other sources of supply include state timber sales, and oversized and undersized logs from other mills.

Financing for the Emmett project includes $4 million in federal economic stimulus money, received after the Emerald principals made a substantial investment in the venture, Vinson said.

Dennis Drake manages Emerald Forest Products.

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