Alaska's lumber industry has seen better days. And timber, one of the state's most bountiful natural resources, is being plagued on the Kenai Peninsula by spruce bark beetles. With a recent downturn in timber production, the industry has nowhere to look but up.
A Nikiski business is in the works, however, that hopes to pump life into the industry, make use of lifeless beetle-killed trees and help build the economy in the central peninsula area in the process. And a key components of the operation had to be uprooted and moved from Seward.
Husky Lumber has been a work in progress for nearly two years, building two lumber mills and a kiln dryer just off the Kenai Spur Highway. The kiln dryer, a steam-powered plant able to dry and condition lumber to specific moisture contents, is the final piece to the puzzle and will soon be operational after having been relocated, said Husky general manager Steve Johnson.
"We should be up and drying things in less than 30 days," Johnson said this week. "When both mills and the kiln are in complete operation, Husky will need (about) 30 people to run it."
Alvin Clark, a millwright a Husky Lumber in Nikiski, welds together a pipe Tuesday that will send steam from a nearby generator to dry wood in the mill's kiln dryer.
Photo by Marcus K. Garner
The kiln dryer is a more efficient way to process wood before it goes to market. The apparatus is a self-contained building that provides temperature control and a steady and adequate flow of air over the timber surface. The air flow rate and direction is controlled by fans; the temperature and relative humidity of the air can be adjusted to suit the species and sizes of the timber being dried. The Husky kiln will take about two days to dry an average of 70,000 board-feet per kiln load-charge, or approximately seven homes worth of lumber.
Business consultant and timber buyer Mark Powell said Husky has a complete logging operation and will be pulling timber from a year-and-a-half-supply in the Nikiski area.
"We also can buy from other loggers," he said. "We have the trucking capacity to ship lumber. And we use dead or green trees.
"Husky will be one of the largest providers of kiln-dried, graded dimensional wood in Alaska."
Johnson said the mill's capacity will be in the vicinity of about 8 million board-feet per year. Powell said it will be able to supply Alaska and Lower 48 markets with dimensional lumber for building, logs for homes, "tongue-and-groove" markets, log siding and cant, and large materials for industrial oil fields.
"We deal with Home Depot, Arctic Builders and other sources in Alaska," Johnson said.
Powell said a $186,297 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture paid for half of the nearly two-month move from Seward. He said the company received help from more government agencies and officials, including the Kenai Peninsula Community and Economic Development Division and Sen. Ted Stevens.
"Because of appropriations from the USDA through Sen. Stevens, $2 million in grants were made available for kiln drying operations in Alaska," Powell said.
Johnson, who's been in the logging industry since 1966, said the major challenge in uniting the kiln dryer with the rest of the Husky operation has passed, and he is ready for the day-to-day work to begin. Powell agreed with him.
"The biggest challenge was getting all to one location," Powell said. "Centralizing our location will make us more efficient, and therefore, more profitable."
Once the kiln dryer is completed, Johnson said the work will begin.
"The first order of business will be getting out the two-by-four and two-by-six dimensional lumber," he said.
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