Fruit & Fiber: Fruitland to get broadband internet by January

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A worker feeds fiber optic cabling into a conduit in Fruitland. Photo courtesy of Farmers Mutual

Fruitland is getting a fiber optic network that is expected to provide its residents with up to 1 Gigabit per second download internet speed by the end of the year.

The project will help with economic development efforts in the area, said Tom Kealey, Idaho director of commerce, who chairs the Broadband Task Force.

“This is a big deal for the city and its citizens,” said Dan Greig, general manager for Farmers Mutual Telephone Company, an independent telephone cooperative based in Fruitland that has served the area since 1908. “There are no other cities for many miles around us that have this capability.”

Farmers Mutual Telephone Company provides service as an Independent Local Exchange Carrier (ILEC), said Greig in an email message.

“Every telephone company has a defined ‘Study Area’ where they are what is called the ‘Carrier of last resort,’ and we are that company in Fruitland,” Greig said. “Our 208-452 exchange covers an area from the Payette River north of the city to an area about 2.5 miles south of Interstate 84. The east boundary is about halfway towards New Plymouth, and the west boundary is the Snake River. We also have an exchange (208-674) that covers the area just south of our Fruitland exchange and is known as the NuAcres’ area.”

We all need fiber

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Dan Greig

The company decided to embark on the project to better serve its customers and maintain its competitive edge, Greig said.

“Our customers/cooperative owners, like people everywhere, have multiple devices in their homes and businesses that require increasingly higher bandwidth and faster speeds than can be achieved on copper cabling,” he said. “We do have competition, both by the regional cable company and some fixed wireless companies, so it is critical that we stay current with technology.”

The project involves starting from the central office and concentrator locations and either plowing or performing underground boring of fiber optic trunk cable along major routes to all subdivisions and neighborhoods in town, as well as the surrounding countryside, Greig said.

“We are placing up to three conduits along each of these routes, with one being for current fiber optic cable needs and the others for future needs,” he said.

Smaller conduits are then installed to the houses to protect the fiber optic cable, Greig said.

“The old copper cables that were in place previously were quite often not placed in conduit, because if they were dug into, they could usually be spliced in place,” he said. “If a fiber cable is cut, it usually has to be pulled out of the conduit and the conduit repaired then a new piece pulled in.” That would require digging up the yard, he said.

Greig wouldn’t say exactly how much the project cost, but said it was several million dollars, which is being funded through First Interstate Bank. He also wouldn’t say how much the service would cost customers but said it would be competitive.

So far, Farmers has about 75-80% of the Fruitland exchange completed, with hopes to have the entire exchange completed by the end of December, depending on the weather, Greig said.

“We are in the process of moving customers off of the legacy copper and onto the fiber optic service,” he said.

While the company has already sold some 1 Gbps service, 100 megabits per second is adequate for most home locations, Greig said. He wouldn’t provide specific numbers but said that “many” customers had upgraded their service.

“We have had many people, including our mayor, ask us when fiber is going to be available,” he added.

Once the project is completed, Fruitland may be able to promote itself as “A Smart Rural Community,” based on a certification from the trade organization NTCA The Rural Broadband Association.

“There are some hoops we have to jump through first, which we are pursuing, but we have already met the build-out requirement part of the certification process,” Greig said.

D. L. Evans Bank opens permanent Fruitland branch

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D. L. Evans Bank recently constructed a permanent branch in Fruitland to serve western Idaho and eastern Oregon customers. Photo courtesy of D. L. Evans Bank.

D.L. Evans Bank has constructed a permanent branch in Fruitland — a development that was six years in the making.

The company, based in Burley with several dozen branches statewide, had been operating in a leased storefront space for the past four years. The land for the new location was purchased six years ago, according to John V. Evans III, executive vice president.

The new branch is about a half mile away from the temporary one.

Designed by Erstad Architects and built by Engineered Structures Inc. (ESI), it is roughly 5,000 square feet.

D.L. Evans is the market leader in Fruitland, growing its deposits over four years to $50 million, Evans said.

“It’s mostly people who live in Idaho, but we have many Oregon customers,” he said. “We bank people from Weiser to Ontario, Payette, New Plymouth, even over to Vale.”

The new branch is one of several that the bank has opened over the past year. The bank now has two branches in Utah, one that opened last year and one in South Ogden that it’s just opening this month. The bank also constructed a permanent branch in Rigby last year.

And it’s not done, Evans said.

“We have plans to look at going into Ontario in the future,” he said.

There’s likely to be plenty of cash in Ontario, as a number of legal marijuana purveyors plan to open up shop after city residents voted in November to allow such businesses. Currently, federal law keeps banks from serving marijuana businesses, but banking officials nationwide have been asking for that to change.

“They do need help,” Evans said, noting that the bank isn’t speculating on the issue because it’s not currently legal. “They’re storing their cash in garages. They need to get it in the banking system so it’s secure.”

Woodgrain acquires two Boise Cascade sawmills in Oregon

Woodgrain Millwork in Fruitland acquired Boise Cascade’s Mount Emily sawmill in La Grande, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Woodgrain Millwork.

Woodgrain Millwork, Fruitland’s largest private employer, has acquired two Boise Cascade sawmills and a particleboard facility in eastern Oregon.

Woodgrain took over operations Nov. 5 of the Boise Cascade sawmills in Pilot Rock and La Grande and the particleboard operations in Island City, all in Union and Umatilla counties.

The sale, for an undisclosed amount, comes in a period where Boise Cascade is shifting more to veneer-based engineered wood products and plywood, while Woodgrain seeks to produce more of the lumber it uses in manufacturing doors, moldings and windows.

“Boise Cascade knew about our interest in the lumber side of the business,” said Tanner Dame, marketing director of the Dame family-owned business.

Founded in 1954, Woodgrain acquired its first sawmill just two years ago, another former Boise Cascade facility in Emmett that had been shuttered for about 10 years.

“It’s a new enterprise for us as we diversify,” Dame said in a phone interview.

Diversification has been a theme for Woodgrain in 2018 as the company in September expanded into plastic coated lumber production with the acquisition of EcoForm in North Palm Springs, California, and Woodguard of Cottage Grove, Oregon.

“I am excited about the acquisition of these three facilities (in eastern Oregon) as they align well with our strategy of growth through vertical integration,” Woodgrain CEO Kelly Dame said in a news release.

Woodgrain inherits 250 employees at the three eastern Oregon facilities, a significant increase for a company with 2,500 total employees at 21 mills, storage and manufacturing locations around the country and in Chile, with 400 employees in Fruitland, nearly 300 in Nampa and 70 in Emmett.

“It’s the stabilization of our supply chain,” Tanner Dame said about the sawmills. “It helps us control our costs.”

The Boise Cascade sale also caught the attention of U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon.

“I am pleased that Woodgrain will continue operating these mills in Union and Umatilla counties because these facilities retain jobs and support rural infrastructure by processing materials from overstocked national forests,” Wyden said in a news release.

Woodgrain is still evaluating whether the new sawmills will increase production of finished products, Tanner Dame said.

“We can increase our capacity with a larger lumber supply,” he said. “The bigger consideration is the integration of our supply chain.”

Boise Cascade owned the La Grande sawmill and Island City particleboard operations for more than 50 years. Boise Cascade owned the Pilot Rock sawmill only nine years, but the former Kinzua Lumber mill was originally built in 1940 by Pilot Rock Lumber Co., Boise Cascade spokeswoman Lisa Chapman said.

“We are one of the largest manufacturers of engineered wood products and plywood in North America,  and we are committed to these core businesses,” Chapman said in explaining the sale of the lumber mills.

Boise Cascade still has 10 sawmills in the Pacific Northwest, seven in the southeast and one in St. Jacques, New Brunswick, Canada.

Fruitland’s Woodgrain Millwork acquires two plastic coated lumber companies

Woodgrain Millwork is the largest employer in Fruitland. Photo courtesy of Woodgrain Millwork.

Fruitland-based Woodgrain Millwork is expanding into plastic coated lumber production with the acquisition of two companies in Oregon and California that specialize in that product.

Woodgrain acquired EcoForm in North Palm Springs, California, and Woodguard of Cottage Grove, Oregon.

“It’s a product mix we have not dabbled in,” said Tanner Dame, marketing director of the family-owned business. “The biggest piece is diversification. This is a specialty product.”

Woodgrain manufactures doors, windows and moldings utilizing 21 mills, storage and manufacturing locations around the country. Woodgrain has 2,500 total employees, with 400 in Fruitland, nearly 300 in Nampa and 70 in Emmett. The company is Fruitland’s largest private employer.

The plastic coated lumber will allow Woodgrain to start producing furniture for outdoor use, Dame said.

Woodguard had transferred its production to EcoForm after a May fire destroyed its Oregon facility. The two companies contacted Woodgrain for a possible acquisition of both, which Woodgrain accepted for an undisclosed amount, Dame said.

EcoForm manufactures plastic coated lumber products such as reusable concrete forms and landscape edging. Woodguard products are used for agricultural and horse fencing as well as playgrounds.

Woodgrain has several separate companies including the headquarters Woodgrain Millwork, founded in 1954 in Utah. The company has been in Fruitland since 1969. Other locations include Woodgrain Chile in Los Angeles, Chile; Woodgrain Distribution in Lawrenceville, Georgia; Woodgrain Doors in Nampa; Windsor Windows & Doors and Ashworth Doors, both in West Des Moines, Iowa; Monarch Windows and Doors in Anniston, Alabama; and Nature’s in Prineville, Oregon.

St. Luke’s builds overnight accommodations for cancer patients in Fruitland

St. Luke’s is building a respite house in Fruitland where cancer patients can stay while getting multi-day radiation treatments. Image courtesy of St. Luke’s Health System.

Backed by $1 million in donations, St. Luke’s Health System will build a 5,235-square-foot respite house in Fruitland for cancer patients traveling from hundreds of miles away for radiation treatment.

The $1.6 million respite house will have four guest rooms with bathrooms for patients and families. The house also will have a living area, two kitchens, showers, laundry facility and storage.

Patients drive to the St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute (MSTI) in Fruitland from as far away as the Oregon cities of John Day, Pendleton, Grangeville and White Bird, often making the round-trip drive on the same day to save motel bills, said Dr. Sarah Bolender, MSTI Fruitland medical director.

“There is a lot of tired,” Bolender said.

The respite house will also have parking for five RVs, Bolender said.

Radiation treatments are given five days in a row for six, seven or eight weeks.

Bolender has lobbied for a respite house for six years.

“I actually begged St. Luke’s to do this,” Bolender said. “This is specifically for cancer patients. This will be right behind our clinic.”

Construction will start July 19 with an opening in spring 2019. St. Luke’s handles architecture and general contracting in-house.

The Surviving Hearts Cancer Support Group has raised more than $40,000 for the respite house with four annual tri-tip dinner auctions. Last year’s dinner raised $17,000 from $30 dinner tickets and auctions for three-day trips to Reno, the Pendleton Rodeo and the Seven Devils Lodge in Council, said Shellie Colbard, Surviving Hearts’ founder and president.

“It’s probably going to be the biggest thing to happen for cancer patients (in eastern Oregon and west central Idaho),” Colbard said. “We also help with gas cards. This last week we gave out $500 worth.”

Other large donors are the Laura Moor Cunningham Foundations, the Bunco Babes, and the Friends Always Club, Bolender said.

Room rates will likely be around $20 to $30 a night, St. Luke’s spokesman Daniel Mediate said.