Timber group forms to combine efforts

Posted: Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Up from the roots of necessity and past failures springs Kenai Peninsula Timber Inc., a nonprofit organization that aims to put the lumber industry back on the map on the Kenai Peninsula.

Stemming from positive feedback at January's Kenai Peninsula Economic Forum, a collection of individuals with varying interests in the timber industry convened to explore ways to revitalize logging and milling on the peninsula.

An assessment of the situation brought out concerns that needed to be dealt with and ideas that could be followed and revealed that there were numerous people eager to be involved in picking up the fallen industry.

At a second meeting, officers were chosen along with the organization's title, concrete goals were established and the groundwork was laid for initial plans to use beetle-killed spruce trees as a source for a cooperative effort at marketing wood for use in products like railroad ties and wood siding.

"We've got a lot of product that's going to waste that we can utilize," said newly elected president Tim O'Brien, a Nikiski mill owner. "All the lumber yards will take anything we can offer."

O'Brien referred to beetle-killed trees that have a two-year usefulness after they die. He said the group aims to take the trees before they hit the ground and rot. KPT Inc. also plans to lobby government officials for access to timber lands.

"I think with the change in Juneau and in (Washington) D.C., access to more timber is certainly attainable," said borough business development manager Jack Brown, who has helped to organize Kenai Peninsula Timber.

The organization was able to pull together more than 20 members into what O'Brien said he hopes to be a more successful incarnation of a defunct timber cooperative that fell by the wayside nearly 12 years ago.

"We're trying to get all the old members and get new members, as well," he said.

One of the ultimate goals, he said, is to build a centralized lumber yard where mills would be set up.

He said it would allow people to focus on their specialty -- mill rights and loggers could contribute their individual skills to a cooperative effort -- and reap a percentage of the benefit proportionate to the work put in.

"You won't have to worry about chopping the logs and milling," he said. "This way, everybody that has the proper equipment can do a quality job and a safer job."

But Brown said it is important that the organization not get ahead of itself and focus on clear-cut goals that are within its grasp.

"I would think the worst thing that could happen would be get up and go too quick," he said.

"We need to make sure we have a solid organization that has credibility."

The corporation's immediate goals include increasing assets to timber, establishing advocacy for streamlining government agency contracts, creating a healthy, sustainable forest, creating value-added products and being a clearinghouse for information and marketing.

One of these goals -- opening avenues for marketing information -- took front and center when individuals came forward at the organization's Feb. 4 meeting to offer possible markets for logging products.

Brown said David Goode, a Nikiski log cabin builder, told the group he had connections to markets in the Lower 48 that would pay for Alaska timber to use to build cabins.

But Goode said some changes would be needed to be competitive.

"The guys are going to have to get their product down to a marketable price," Goode said.

"You can't sell something for $8.25 per lineal foot, when I can buy that same product out of Montana and Colorado for as low as $3.25."

He said he has uncovered various strong potential markets for several products he would present at the KPT Inc. meeting today.

The meeting will be held at 4 p.m. at Ganders restaurant in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna and is open to the public.

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