May 302012

By Linda Kor —

The U.S. Forest Service announced earlier this month that Pioneer Forest Products has been awarded the contract for thinning 300,000 acres of Ponderosa pine in the state’s forests. With that award the company intends to process the small diameter trees into high-grade furniture at a facility to be built in Winslow. This award brings the City of Winslow a step closer to a new viable economic engine in the community that is anticipated to bring hundreds of new jobs.

Although the announcement is exciting, City Manager Jim Ferguson finds it best to remain pragmatic as the city moves forward in response to the impact the new industry will inevitably bring. “The contract has been awarded, but has not yet been signed and we are not aware of the timeline involved. This is a contract that involves hundreds of millions of dollars and a lot of interested parties, so there are still some things to wait on,” stated Ferguson, referring to the possibility of an appeal by other companies that participated in the bid process.

The city has been working with Pioneer Forest Products for the past three years, going through the due diligence process of reviewing infrastructure and impacts on the community that would come with the development of a large-scale operation.

“We have already begun to address the potential impact, and many of us at the city have seen the impact of these kind of projects on other areas. We are working on the development of housing and other services, and will be accelerating that process as things move forward,” explained Ferguson.

As far as water and wastewater infrastructure, Ferguson feels confident that the needs of the growing community can be met with what is already in place. The city applied for a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant issued through the U.S. Department of Transportation in order to construct a by-pass to the south of the city to accommodate logging trucks without residential interference, but was denied on the last go around. “We expect that with the award of this contract and knowing other information that needed to be submitted, that the department will review it again in a different light,” said the city manager.

In preparing for the upcoming boon to the community, the city also needs to be prepared for possible decline in the industry over the next 10 to 20 years. “You always have to prepare for the ‘what ifs.’ We expect this endeavor to last for a long time, but we need to prepare for the possibility of it all going away someday,” stated Ferguson.

It was announced at the news conference regarding the award of contract that Pioneer would begin construction of its facility in the fall. Ferguson is aware of several locations that the company was considering in the community, but does not know their final choice.

“We are very excited about the award and intend to proceed cautiously, working with the company and being prepared for the best interests of the community,” he concluded.