From roadmap to biomass study, industry forges ahead

Patrick sigIn an ideal Maine summer, things slow down so we can enjoy the great weather, but a lot is going on right now, so here are updates on a number of important issues and efforts.

Federal EDAT Team visiting Maine

Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Angus King and Rep. Bruce Poliquin are continuing their efforts to seek federal assistance to help Maine deal with the loss of jobs and markets in the forest industry. In response to the congressional delegation’s request for assistance and a preliminary tour of Maine in March, Secretary Penny Pritzker of the U.S. Department of Commerce agreed to establish an integrated, multi-agency Economic Development Assessment Team (EDAT) to focus on Maine’s forest-based economy. (Read more). At news conference Friday, some details emerged about what forms that assistance will take.

The outcome I’m hoping for includes funding for new wood products research at the University of Maine and support for the Vision and Roadmap project we’ve been working on with the School of Forest Resources team (update below).  Additionally, there may be opportunities to enhance recent federal grants for railroad upgrades (U.S. Department of Transportation), increased forest stewardship funding (U.S. Forest Service), grants for biomass energy projects (combined heat and power, U.S. Department of Energy). We’re working to better understand these opportunities through discussions with various government agencies.

Steve Schley of Pingree Associates, who serves on MFPC’s Executive Committee, and I have been working with the congressional staff and the Maine Development Foundation to outline concerns and organize a three-day tour of Maine, August 17-19, which would touch on the various issues of concern to our industry. We’ve included input from Professional Logging Contractors of Maine (PLC), Small Woodland Owners Association (SWOAM) and the Maine Pulp and Paper Association (MPPA). We will be seeking assistance from various members as we organize roundtable discussions on selected topics. We’ll send out the final agenda when it’s completed.

Industry leaders meet to discuss six important issues

In late June, our industry asked Eric Kingsley from Innovative Natural Resource Solutions LLC to facilitate a discussion (Forest Industry Issues Meeting 6 27 2016 – Summary). The goal was to coordinate our collective industry thoughts in response to the EDAT event and to have a chance to build a common message among trade group members. Despite a lengthy invitation list, the short timeline brought about a dozen leaders together and our afternoon session was very productive. Key principles identified in the process include:

  1. In all actions and efforts, it is important to respect and be cognizant of the delicate balance between landowners, loggers and mills.
  2. All parties recognized that the State of Maine is an important partner in these issues, the federal government role is to provide information and resources to be used in determining a State-designed plan.

There are more details in the summary, but here are our priority issues:

  • We need to know what causes forest industries in Maine to be less competitive and not attract investment relative to other regions of the country.
  • Maine forest industries need better benchmarking to understand how we fare in particular categories compared to other states and countries.
  • Maine needs an updated and real-world assessment and prospective modeling of forest growth and harvest levels, by species, grade and geography.
  • Maine forest industries believe that they can better utilize and deploy transportation systems to move wood from the forest to the mill to market, but are not sure how.
  • Maine forest industries need to better understand emerging and potential markets for forest products and match that with Maine’s forest resources.
  • Markets for residuals, particularly from sawmills, are critical to the continued operation of a number of manufacturing facilities.

Please let me know what you think about these issues, so that we can accurately relay members’ opinions as we talk with state, federal and legislative officials about our future forest economy.

Update on the Long-term Vision & Roadmap for Maine’s Forest Sector

Pages from Roadmap & Vision for Maine’s Forest Product SectorAs discussed at our board meetings, this collaborative project between the university and the forest industry continues to evolve and shape up as funding opportunities emerge. We should hear soon about our proposal to the Northern Border Regional Commission for $250,000 to initiate benchmarking, forest products market analysis, and a wood supply analysis. This award would jump start the larger project and begin to provide more immediate information in the first phase of the project. You can review the proposal and a presentation given to congressional staffers in June. (Roadmap & Vision for Maine’s Forest Product Sector).  I think it is very interesting to note that many of the needs expressed in our recent priority issues list reaffirm the design of this study and the need for information in order to establish a good long term strategic plan.

A recent wood supply analysis done for the State of Wisconsin has been identified by several of our mill members as a very good model design. In discussions with Aaron Weiskettle, associate professor of forest biometrics and modeling at UMainebelieves this is the approach that we can use in Phase 1 of the project.

We are also emphasizing the Roadmap in the upcoming EDAT tour as a way to funnel R&D grants opportunities towards this strategic planning project. Bob Wagner, who starts his new job at Purdue in October, will be playing an ongoing, but distant role in this project. He’ll hand off to Weiskettle with support from Steve Shaler, director of UMaine’s School of Forest Resources.

Maine Biomass Study Commission meeting

The challenges faced by our biomass industry were hotly debated last legislative session. A stop-gap bill (Public Law 483) was put in place to authorize the PUC to contract for up to 80 megawatts of power for a two-year term to help reduce the ongoing threats to the industry. In addition, a biomass commission was established (Resolve establishing Commission to Study Biomass) to examine options for the industry and establish recommendations. The first meeting of this group is Tuesday, Aug. 2, 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., Room 216, Cross State Office Building in Augusta. Two other meetings also have been scheduled at the same time and place on Aug. 16 and Aug. 30.

Our Council is well represented on the Commission and I will be among several presenters during the first introductory meeting. We’ll keep the membership updated on the progress of this effort. You also can sign up for updates at the Commission website.

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