After 60 good years and a half dozen bad ones, it looked as if the only sawmill in Sanford might not survive. But the owners of Pleasant River Lumber Co. saw potential, not just problems.
Pleasant River Lumber bought the former Lavalley sawmill in December 2012, and what a difference that’s made – the difference between bankruptcy and a bright future.
“When it got taken over, everybody kind of breathed a sigh of relief,” said Danny Shaw, a logger and trucker in North Berwick. “Because the family that took it over has the means and the ability to do what they’re doing.”
The mill spends $100,000 a week on logs alone, all of which goes right back into the local economy. It employs 45 full-time and three part-time workers, and up to eight more employees may be hired over the coming year as the mill is modernized.
Most of its wood comes from within a 50-mile radius. The mill buys from about three dozen loggers who contract with private landowners to cut from 10 acres to a few hundred acres.
“The mill’s impact is huge. It affects a lot of people,” said Jason Brochu, co-president of Pleasant River.
Albert Lavalley, who had a “stellar reputation in the community,” built the mill in 1944. It remained a family business until 1999, when it was sold along with three retail stores to a private holding company, United Ventures, which rapidly expanded the retail side of the business. When the economic downturn began and the building boom ended, the retail stores dragged the company down.
“They were bankers, not lumber people,” said Raymond Lavallee, the founder’s nephew, who at 81 still works 15 hours a week at the mill. “The Brochus are lumber people and they know what lumber is.” (Note: Raymond Lavallee says his uncle changed the spelling of his name to avoid losing mail to another Albert Lavallee in town.)
By the time the company filed for bankruptcy in February 2012, only the mill was left – and just barely. Very little had been invested to update machinery in a decade or more. By January 2012, the mill stopped buying logs – but not before checks bounced – and payroll was postponed. Most of the administrative staff, including Terry Walters, the mill’s general manager, had left by then. The mill’s crew was still working, but without benefits or much hope.
“Morale was terrible,” said Walters, who is back managing the mill. “No one knew what was going to happen to the company. Most people thought it would close eventually. They didn’t think it had any future.”
The repercussions were felt throughout Sanford and beyond. Dan Ferry, who lives in Lebanon and has worked at the mill for 37 years, has no doubt how much the mill’s survival means to the community.
“A lot,” Ferry said emphatically. “I mean all the loggers, all the guys who work here, insurance people, everybody. It’s big money. You take the corner store right at the end of the road. When we were going bankrupt, they didn’t have half the business. And that’s what the mill means to everybody.”
Until 2004, the Brochus were part owners of Stratton Lumber in Eustis. Then brothers Luke, Guy and Adrien Brochu, along with Adrien’s sons, Jason and Chris, and Rodney Irish, a CPA from Freeport, and J. Maurice Bisson, A CPA from Brunswick, purchased Pleasant River Lumber Co., a spruce mill in Dover-Foxcroft, from Gerard Crete & Sons of Quebec.
Jason and Chris have served as co-presidents of Pleasant River Lumber since Luke Brochu’s retirement at the end of 2013. Prior to the 2010 acquisition, the ownership group spent its time completing $20 million in upgrades to the Dover-Foxcroft mill, including adding an Enfield planing facility in 2008.
The Dover-Foxcroft mill was doing nicely by September 2011, so, in what Jason calls “a pretty spur-of-the-moment decision,” they acquired the Crobb Box Mill in Hancock, which was in foreclosure. They’ve spent the last few years modernizing that white pine mill, which is about nine miles from Ellsworth.
“That was our first jump into Eastern White Pine,” Jason said. “After owning that for about a year, the Sanford bankruptcy started happening. And with what we had learned about pine up to that point, it kind of piqued our interest in having another facility, both for institutional knowledge and additional capacity and the location. We liked the location a lot.”
The Sanford mill is just 10 miles from the Maine Turnpike, providing easy access to Pleasant River’s major markets – Boston, New York, Pennsylvania and the East Coast from Baltimore north. It’s the southernmost mill in Maine and there aren’t any other substantial mills to the south in New Hampshire or Massachusetts.
“Most of the lumber we sell has to drive by the Sanford mill,” Jason said. “So we’ve been able to use that logistically to fit into our structure. We move a lot of wood down there and then re-transport it. There’s also extra drying and planning capacity down there so we’re moving rough lumber down from the Hancock mill.”
Thanks to the improvements they’ve made, the Hancock sawmill is now more modern than the Sanford mill, but Sanford has a better planer, buildings, and drying facility. In Hancock, there is still one project to finish – putting in an edger optimizer – but then the focus will be on modernizing the Sanford mill.
The Sanford Regional Economic Growth Council recognized the importance of the mill to the local economy and worked closely with Jason and Chris to put together “the proper mix of private and public money.” It was clear that the sawmill would not be able to compete in the future without those investments,” said Jim Nimon, executive director of the Growth Council.
“I was very impressed with their knowledge of the industry and their can-do attitudes,” Nimon said. “They certainly care deeply about their workforce and suppliers. They want to upgrade the Sanford facility. They have a very impressive track record for modernizing.”
There already have been changes for the better at the mill. The crew had done inventories by hand and could only guess how much lumber they had by counting the piles and estimating how much was in each pile.
“We would spend hours and hours trying to locate lumber and track lumber. Now it’s all computerized. That’s huge,” Walters said. “The Brochus have put a substantial amount of money in the mill and we have a couple of big projects on the books.”
They plan to put in optimization, add a molder line and additional planning capacity. They’ve also updated some of the rolling stock and changed the flow of the mill a bit.
“In all the projects that we have planned, there’s no reduction of people,” Chris Brochu said. “We’re just making it more efficient. It’s getting more out of the log – the most we can get. The flow of the wood is very good. It all flows in one direction and that helps production. The mill is very well laid out, so it’s congested but it flows well, which is half the battle in trying to get something to produce well.”
They estimate they’ve already invested close to $1 million in the Sanford operation and more than half of their capital dollars will be spent in the next five years in Sanford. They are in the planning stages “for a several million dollar project that will further modernize the mill and help secure jobs long term for the area.”
“It’s just going to take some investment over time. It’s something that we’re very familiar with – modernizing a mill,” Jason Brochu said, and he and Chris laughed. “It will be our third run at it.”
In 2013, Maine’s forest products exports totaled $891 million, which is 33 percent of the state’s total $2.6 billion exports. The forest industry’s three major categories claimed three spots – first, second and fourth — in the year’s list of Maine’s top exports.
The category “Wood and articles of wood” provided one of the brightest notes in the 2013 exports by continuing to rise, from $206 million in 2011, to $277 million, an increase of 34.5 percent.
However, while total U.S. exports grew 2.1 percent from 2012 to 2013, Maine’s total exports fell to $2.6 billion last year, the lowest total since the 2009 financial crisis and about the same as Maine’s 2007 total, according the 2014 Measures of Growth report issued by the Maine Development Foundation.
The sharp decline in Maine’s reported total was driven almost entirely by a loss of semiconductor exports, which dropped from a high of $918 million in 2011 to $457 million in 2012 and just $94 million in 2013.
Without the semiconductor industry data, Maine’s export growth continued (by 37 percent since 2009). Canada remained the leading market for Maine products, receiving half of recorded exports in 2013.
For the detailed list of the 2013 Maine exports in each of the major forest products categories categories, click on the titles below:
By Roberta Scruggs, MFPC Communications Director
An icy rain was falling as I carefully made my way up the slippery hill to the State House a few minutes after 7:30 a.m. I couldn’t help wondering if MFPC would have a decent turnout for our celebration of Maine’s forest products industry at the Hall of Flags on March 20.
An icy rain was falling as I carefully made my way up the slippery hill to the State House a few minutes after 7:30 a.m. I couldn’t help wondering if MFPC would have a decent turnout for our celebration of Maine’s forest products industry at the Hall of Flags. When I got to the security checkpoint, I warned the guard, “A bunch of forest products folks will be coming through here any minute with a lot of stuff.” He just grinned and pointed his thumb back over his shoulder. “They’re already here,” he said.
The State House had only been open a few minutes and the Nortrax team already was setting up the logging simulator in the Hall of Flags. Kevin Doran of the Maine Forest Service and Ryan Wishart, a Seven Islands forester, and Matthew Hiebert of Maine Energy Systems were wondering which tables were theirs, and others were bringing in their equipment. Everyone was wet, but cheerful and in no time at all the Hall of Flags was humming. We had a great turnout — plenty of eye-catching displays and a steady stream of people looking at them and learning about our industry.
“This was our first event at the Hall of Flags and it shouldn’t be our last,” said Sue McCarthy, MFPC officer manager. “You could tell it was a success by how loud it got. Everyone was talking to each other.”
Many started by getting coffee and a muffin and then worked their way around all the tables. Members had some excellent displays and so did our partners, from MFS to the Maine Maple Producers Association, with its delicious treat – maple sugar candy.
“It was good to see the diversity of booths set up,” said Eric Dumond of Re-Energy. “Many legislators made the rounds asking questions.”
Re-Energy worked with Nortrax to get the logging simulator (similar to the smaller simulator shown in our video at Foster Tech in Farmington last year). Lots of folks, including legislators, gave the simulator a try and lots more enjoyed watching them.
“The simulator was the hit,” Dumond said.
The flume table, which shows the effects of water flow on a landscape, also drew attention.
“People can’t help themselves,” joked Pat Sirois, SFI coordinator. “When the bear or moose get knocked over, they just have to reach in and set them back up again.”
Another big draw was the Maine Wood Concepts table with its colorful display of products ranging from unique salt shakers to upscale rolling pins.
“This was a very worthwhile event in our opinion,” said Doug Fletcher, president of Maine Wood Concepts, “and we appreciated the opportunity to take part in it. The resounding question we heard time and again from many of the people who stopped by to visit was, ‘Are all of these different products made in Maine?’ We were thrilled at their reactions when we affirmed that every single wooden item on our table is made right here in the great State of Maine! We’re already making plans to join our friends from the MFPC at the next Hall of Flags event!
Robbins Lumber showed off a number of products, including its ever-popular clothes drying rack.
“This event was a good chance to show the legislators what we do,” Jim Robbins Sr. said. “Many stopped to chat and gave us an opportunity to discuss some of our issues with them.”
“Not much talk about forest management or politics but the legislators who did stop by our table seemed to be genuinely interested in the product we were selling, AdvanTech,” said Barry Burgason, Huber wildlife biologist. “Many questions about where it was made, how it was made, etc. That’s not something Ted (Shina) and I usually peddle but having something in hand becomes a great conversation starter.”
It was great for those of in the industry to catch up with friends, but best of all our members, staff and others in the forest industry interacted with legislators, officials and many others throughout the busy day.
“It’s always helpful when legislators realize we represent real people and businesses,” said Executive Director Patrick Strauch. “That’s the value for MFPC in the events we do, including tours, receptions even our golf tournament. Our role is not just to advocate, but to educate. And exposing policymakers to the issues and, most importantly, to the people we represent is essential.”
The simulator was a lot of fun, but it was even harder than breaking gridlock in the Legislature!
This year’s MFPC legislative reception was lively, loud and a great opportunity for legislators, state officials and members to meet or get to know each other better. About three dozen legislators, another three dozen members, state officials, lobbyists and others crowded the MFPC conference room.
“It’s a place where we can be comfortable having conversations that never could take place otherwise,” said Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Somerset, a firewood dealer. “It gives our industry a chance to mingle with policymakers and get to know each other better. I think we all have a better understanding of important issues as information flows in both directions. I know I learned a lot and count it as time well spent.”
The reception had been set for Feb. 13, but was postponed because of a snowstorm. It was clear, but cold Feb. 27 and legislators started arriving even before the reception officially began at 4 p.m. It’s also an opportunity to enjoy light hors d’oeuvres, beverages and good conversation.
“It was great to see such a variety of legislators at our reception and we appreciate all those who took the time to visit,” said Executive Director Patrick Strauch. “Despite the polarity in Augusta and some of the debates in which we participate in (guns and rangers) we have respect for all opinions and hope to maintain our reputation as an issues driven organization.”
It didn’t hurt that the buffet was excellent, thanks to MFPS Office Manager Sue McCarthy’s event-planning expertise. Although it’s described as “light hors d’oeuvres,” it included plenty of hearty food, including meatballs, scallops, shrimp, chicken, pizza, vegetables, cheeses and more, plus beer, wine, coffee, soda and water. Nobody goes away hungry.
“I look forward to this annual event,” said Rep. Terry Hayes, D-Buckfield. “It’s great to reconnect with members we’ve met on the woods tours and get an update on how things are going in the industry.”
Among others who attended were Steve Shaler, director of UMaine’s School of Forest Resources; Rick Bennett, Maine GOP chairman, ACF Commissioner Walt Whitcomb; Maine State Forester Doug Denico; John Butera and Rosaire Pelletier, of Gov. LePage’s office, and Ed Meadows, director of Land for Maine’s Future.
“What a great event,” Meadows emailed later. “Thanks very much for including me. It was wonderful to catch up with so many council members.”
The reception also gave Rep. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn, who chairs the Legislative Memorial Scholarship Fund, an opportunity to ask MFPC members to contribute to items for the annual auction. Hundreds of items are donated, many of them made in Maine. The fund makes it possible for 16 students, one from each county in Maine, to receive as much as a $1000 award.
For Sen. Andre Cushing, who owns a home construction company, it’s heartening to see legislators learn more about what matters to Maine’s forest products industry.
“It is a great event and a very beneficial opportunity for legislators to meet with members of the forest industry to learn more about the issues that impact their companies and this core Maine industry,” Cushing said. “I always enjoy the opportunity to attend.”
The reception also is valuable to MFPC, its members and all who are involved with Maine’s forest economy, Strauch said.
“These events are important,’ Strauch said, “because they let legislators and members of the administration see the people that the organization represents. Thanks to those who attended and members of the Board of Directors who hosted the event. As always a great job by Office Manager Sue McCarthy in taking care of the details!”
- Any findings related to any differences in compliance issues based on the location of parcels, such as coastal and waterfront properties as compared to other parcels;
- A summary of data concerning violations and enforcement activities;
- An assessment of the effectiveness of the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law in promoting the harvesting of fiber for commercial purposes and its impact on the fiber industry and,
- Recommendations to address any problems identified and to ensure that parcels enrolled under the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law meet the requirements of the law.
In addition to responding to legislative direction, MFS addressed three key questions of its own:
- Does the landowner’s management plan meet the requirements of the TGTL?
- Is the landowner following their management plan?
- Has the landowner harvested wood from their enrolled land?
Many landowners and MFS personnel trekked to Quebec City Feb. 19-20 to participate in the CFS/MRNQ Spruce Budworm Conference. Two days of research and operations presentations were informative to the group and provide a better understanding of the possible outbreak scenarios that we may encounter in Maine this time around.
It appears that Quebec will be trying to harvest threatened stands along with targeting aerial applications of Bt to protect stands from severe defoliation. In New Brunswick, which just received $18 million to tackle budworm, it appears a more aggressive intervention of insecticide applications to kill budworm larva before populations can multiply will be tried.
Maine has a small window of time before we think the budworm will invade (1-2 years) so we can continue to benefit from the research conducted by our Canadian neighbors. The Maine Budworm task force will present its current report on the Maine budworm strategy at the New England Regional Council on Forest Engineering (NERCOFE) meeting on March 10 at the University of Maine and at a meeting of the Keeping Maine’s Forest Committee on March 14.
An EPA proposal to tighten emission standards for new wood stoves starting next year has created controversy across the nation and “could be prohibitively expensive,” according to Commissioner Patricia Aho of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
At a public hearing Feb. 26 in Boston, Aho testified that the stricter emission requirements could be a concern in Maine, where many rely on wood for heating, the Boston Globe reported. Other views of the proposed rules have appeared everywhere from Forbes (EPA’s Wood-Burning Stove Ban Has Chilling Consequences For Many Rural People) to Biomassmagazine (The EPA’s Myopia on Wood Heat).
Aho said the draft rule did not include all types of wood stoves and placed the burden of compliance on the shoulders of an aging Maine population. She noted that many residents burn wood because it is less expensive than heating oil.
The draft rule is the first time the EPA has update residential wood heating standards since 1988. It is set to become law in 2015. The EPA has a website for those who need more information or want to submit testimony
“As one might expect, the document is rather impenetrable,” Triandafillou wrote, ” I cannot intelligently comment on particulate size and concentration, but I will craft comments that stress the following:
- Wood and pellet stoves are mostly used in rural settings where particulate concentrations are rarely an issue. The opposition will certainly bring up lousy air in small towns that have morning atmospheric inversions, but that’s a side show.
- A large fraction of wood users are in a low income demographic and live in poor counties. They depend on wood as a cost effective alternative to oil and propane heat.
- The proposed rules will make an already expensive appliance even more expensive. Pricing these appliances out of reach of the people that need them will cause hardship for little benefit.”
Triandafillou’s submitted testimony:
Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–OAR–2009–0734
Federal Register Volume 79 Number 22 February 3, 2014
40 CFR Part 60
To whom it may concern:
I am submitting comments in opposition to the proposed new rules for wood heaters and related equipment. While the goal of reducing pollution from heating devices is laudable, the new rules will increase costs to the consumer for only marginal benefit.
Solid wood and wood pellets represent an important source of heat for rural households. These fuels are a lower cost alternative to the other common sources of heat in these areas: fuel oil and propane.
It is important to realize that many of the users of these fuels have low incomes and live in relatively poor counties. Solid wood and wood pellets are inconvenient compared to oil and propane. Wood is heavy and sometimes dirty. It has to be hand carried to the stove, and the heating appliance needs frequent cleaning and removal of ash. Many people who burn wood do so out of necessity, sacrificing the convenience of oil and propane for lower cost. For some with little disposable income, these cost savings can prevent real hardship.
Wood heaters are expensive appliances, and represent a huge investment for many consumers. Raising the price of appliances by hundreds or thousands of dollars, as is estimated in the document describing the proposed rules, will impose a significant economic hardship.
An unintended consequence of this increase in cost will be a reduction in air quality. Consumers will put off purchasing new, more efficient appliances, and in some cases will use appliances beyond their designed life span. This could create not only more pollution, but unsafe conditions. In addition, many homeowner insurance policies require conventional oil or gas appliances as backup devices for wood heat. Some homeowners who do not already have wood burning appliances will simply not be able to afford units that cost more because of the proposed rules. They will then be forced to burn more hydrocarbon based fuels instead of wood.
Any wood burning device can produce pollution if improperly operated. However, modern units are much more efficient and clean burning than old ones, and most of these devices are used in rural settings. Population density in these areas is mostly low, and except in a few instances, there is little chance for concentration of particulates or gases.
I believe the wood appliance industry has done an excellent job making their products safer and cleaner over the years, and a significant demographic of low income consumers depends on these devices. Increasing their cost will impose an economic hardship on these consumers, and may, through the delay of purchasing more expensive appliances have the opposite of the intended benefits.
Thank you for your time.
Huber Resources Corp
1141 Main Street
Old Town, ME 04468
On Thursday, March 20, MFPC has reserved the Hall of Flags at the Capitol in Augusta for a celebration of the state’s forest products industry. The theme is “Made in Maine” and it’s a great opportunity to tell — and especially show — legislators, lobbyists, state officials and all who visit the State House how many practical, beautiful and essential products we make. This will be the first time MFPC has done this so we need to get many companies involved and present our industry effectively. You can reserve an entire table or half a table (but contact us as soon as possible because there are only a limited number available) or you can send us one great product and we’ll display it for you with information about your business. We’ll also have a slide show running and could include your photos. For more information or to reserve your spot in the Hall of Flags, contact Sue McCarthy.
By Executive Director Patrick Strauch
The debate on LD 297, which would arm Maine’s forest rangers, continues to echo in the halls of the legislature. The initial vote in the House Feb. 25 was a strong showing — 130-7 — in favor of arming of rangers, but the issue is far from resolved. Further debate is expected in the Senate and in the Appropriations Committee. Our position continues to be of concern over mission creep and a diversion of important resources that should be focused on resource protection. SWOAM is actively concerned about this issue as well and we will be working closely with them to express our concerns. To have 75 rangers armed with guns is a significant government expansion to remedy risks that can be managed with a more thoughtful discussion about the future structure of the Maine Forest Service.
Wind power: The Council has been involved in wind power bills to the extent that land use laws are being changed. LD 616 creates a new governance process in the unorganized territory that is unprecedented and harmful to landowner rights. You can read MFPC’s concerns, which we expressed in response to an recent op-ed piece in the Bangor Daily News. We will express our concerns in the House and Senate as the bill is debated and will keep members informed.
Mining regulations: Landowners are watching over the mining regulations with interest. The media reported a “fiery debate” on LD 1772 , concerning major substantive rules written by the staff at DEP and approved by the Board of Environmental Protection. At the hearing Feb. 24, I testified that these rules are workable and provide the framework to protect the environment and allow responsible mining activity. Judging by the testimony, which was more focused on banning mining than reviewing the rules, there will be challenges getting the rules approved through both bodies. The Metallic Mineral Mining Act was passed in the 125th legislature, with an active rulemaking process. To return to the old rules which in effect prohibited mining is shutting the door on potential opportunities for Maine’s rural economy. Once the rules are approved there is still an major task in seeing if a project can be developed that meets all the regulated site parameters and that is environmentally and economically feasible.
Sometimes even simple bills find obstacles in the legislative process. The MFS submitted a bill (LD 1665) responding to mills’ concern about additional information required in the annual Maine Wood Prcoessors report. This report is an important policy tool and the MFS wants to make it even more accurate. Mills are willing to help, but more detailed information about deliveries gets close to exposing a customer list that could be used by competitors. We will work with the Judiciary Committee to help explain the need for confidentiality and the importance of the aggregate data in the report.
The contest this year will be to find native trees including the lesser-known trees as listed by the Maine Forest Service at Project Canopy.
Once the nominations come in, Franklin County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) will work with Patty Cormier of the Maine Forest Service to measure and photograph these trees to see if they really are the biggest in Franklin County or even in the state!
Franklin County SWCD has a simple nomination form that can be picked up at our 107 Park St, Farmington office or by requesting a copy at email@example.com. Individuals who nominate a big tree will receive a Forest Trees of Maine booklet. Anyone who finds a tree that becomes a state winner will receive recognition at the Districts annual meeting where they will be award a special gift and certificate as well as being posted on the Maine Forest Service and the FCSWCD web sites. For more information or to enter the contest, call Rosetta at 778-4279
Since 1940, there has been a national registry of the biggest trees of both native and naturalized species. Maine also has its own state registry of big trees. These registries help recognize the importance of trees to our environment and quality of life. Big trees provide cool shade and shelter for wildlife, as well as contributing to clean air and water. The Maine Forest Service has a website with more information about Maine’s Register of Big Trees.