Jun 222012

By Linda Kor —

Pioneer Forest Products has chosen a site on which to process the anticipated 300,000 acres of Ponderosa pine to be harvested over the next 10 years from the Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Kaibab and Tonto national forests. Pioneer CEO Herman Hauck stated that the site covers 311 acres on the south end of Winslow near the airport. The construction of the facility will begin in January 2013.

While many environmentalist groups and the general public are eager for the thinning project and the influx of new jobs to begin, other groups are expressing disappointment and even anger at Pioneer being awarded the contract.

Both the Grand Canyon Trust and The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) issued similar statements of discontent, with trust officials stating they were “shocked and extremely disappointed” in the selection of Pioneer for the contract. Both groups had worked closely with AZFRP (Arizona Forest Restoration Products) for the past seven years with the expectation that AZFRP would be awarded the contract. The company, which dissolved following the selection of Pioneer, was created specifically to meet the needs of the thinning project.

The main concerns by both the trust and the CBD are that that Pioneer would not work in a collaborative effort for the objectives of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) and that the Montana-based company lacked local experience. They also stated that Pioneer’s plan to convert biomass into cellulostic biodiesel fuel has not been fully tested.

The CBD accused the Forest Service of walking away from ecological monitoring funds offered by AZFRP in the amount $5 million for monitoring across 10 years, claiming that Pioneer didn’t even address monitoring funding. The group went so far as to accuse Pioneer of using 4FRI as “little more than a vehicle affording access to large-scale timber sales not previously offered by the U.S. Forest Service.”

The CBD also implied that former forester Marlin Johnson, who is a consultant for Pioneer, in his previous position with the Forest Service had access to the business plans of the bidders that Pioneer would later compete against.

In response to the accusations, Hauck stated that his company has every intention of abiding by the contract and working closely with the objectives of 4FRI. “I won’t be involved with the actual harvesting, but we have to follow the requirements in the contract with the Forest Service,” stated Hauck. He added that although 4FRI has been working with AZRFP for the past seven years, his work in this field did not start with the award of this contract. “This isn’t new to me. I’ve been working within this concept for the past 13 years,” he stated.

Regarding the validity of the endeavor to create cellulostic biodiesel fuel, Hauck said the process has been thoroughly tested and is in use in Germany. “We have a company that we are considering, but we also recently have been approached by an Arizona-based company and their offer is very appealing,” stated Hauck, who added that he is unable to name the company until a decision is made.

According to Hauck, the real basis for the Forest Service decision to select his company was economics. “It was an employment situation. Our operation offers 900 jobs; the other company (AZRFP) was offering 300. We also are providing a more diverse product that isn’t so dependent on the housing market,” he explained.

Hauck will be taking part in a public meeting scheduled at 8 a.m. on Thursday, July 28, at the Hubbell Building, located at 523 W. Second St. in Winslow, to inform the public regarding Pioneer’s plans for its new facility and to provide an opportunity for the public to ask questions regarding the operation.