By Naomi Hatch
Mike Cooley, the third generation of his family with Cooley Forest Products, updated the Real AZ Committee on the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) project Oct. 11.
It took approximately 10 years, but on May 18, Pioneer Forest Products was awarded the 4FRI contract by the U.S. Forest Service to perform treatments in the Coconino, Kaibab, Apache-Sitgreaves and Tonto national forests.
It is anticipated it will take more than 10 years to perform restoration-based thinning in 300,000 acres of federal forest.
Approximately 41/2 years ago Herman Hauck of Pioneer Forest Services contacted Cooley, asking him to act as a consultant to help the firm acquire the 4FRI contract.
Though it has been close to five months since the contract was awarded, Cooley said they feel the financing is in place and they are able to move forward even though it took longer than they anticipated.
“That’s the big crux of this now that the contract is in place,” he said. “We feel the contract was superior and has sustainability.”
Recently Cooley Forest Products purchased the Heber saw mill from Lonnie Porter and now has 20 employees. “We recognize our 20 jobs will never offset the 300 lost,” said Cooley in reference to the closing of Catalyst’s Snowflake Paper Mill.
“We worked feverishly with engineers,” said Cooley, referencing the Winslow structure and they continue to work with the city to get relocated, noting that there will be a biomass partner at the same facility.
“We are quickly moving ahead,” he said. They have an appointment in Chicago, Ill., this week with two major contractors and feel they will be able to shore up their funding.
Cooley explained that the east side of the project is closer to the Heber facility, so they will predominantly feed the Heber saw mill nine to 12 months before the deck is built at the Winslow facility.
The Winslow site was selected because of its location near Interstate 40 and the railroad.
Cooley said they feel they can ramp up to 30,000 acres on an annual basis, and plan to log 5,000 to 7,000 acres the first year, 15,000 the second year and hope by the third year they are up to full speed.
They will focus first on hiring Arizona residents, and second to get the contract done and accomplished so it meets the goals of 4FRI.
Operations will begin the first of 2013, Cooley reported, noting, “We also have begun the process of working closely with several reference jobs and job training with Navapache School and NAU (Northern Arizona University) regarding training for forester operation.”
“The construction process brings 200 employees working on that facility (in Winslow),” said Cooley. The biomass facility will hire 25 to 30 people. Logging in two to 2½ years will bring 60 jobs. The sawmill will have three phases bringing 245 jobs in phase 3 operation, with the biomass ultimately hiring 35 employees per shift and running three shifts.
It is anticipated the total operation will hire around 500 without the sawmill. “We are confident it will affect 950 to 1,000 people in servicing the facility,” said Cooley. This figure includes trucking and related logging jobs.
They anticipate the Winslow facility has a 14 to 15-months time frame to be ready to cut the first log.
Construction jobs will start the first of 2013, offering a few hundred jobs.
Cooley said that the Heber biomass plant will be used to produce diesel fuel for trucks going in and going out, and will be a viable business, selling wholesale fuel to the market.
They will be hooking up with some major contractors that can take their technology and do something similar with this plant as Western Energy Solutions did when they hooked up with Concord Blue out of India.
Logging will begin at the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests before the Winslow plant is operational.
“Because of our commitment to the Heber sawmill, we will always be cutting on this side and supplying them,” said Cooley, noting that the majority of logs will be from the Kaibab National Forest.
By Naomi Hatch