By Nick Worth
The Pioneer Forest Products lumber treatment plant planned for Winslow is currently on hold, but not out of the picture.
“We’re in communication with them all the time,” Winslow City Manager Jim Ferguson said, speaking of Pioneer. “In fact, I spoke with the company president this morning.”
Plans call for Pioneer to build the $230 million mill on 500 acres near the Winslow Airport, but Ferguson said Pioneer has not yet pulled any building permits for the proposed site.
In a Dec. 7 article in The Tribune-News, Herman Hauck, CEO of Pioneer Associates, said the company was set to begin construction on the mill “sometime in early 2013.”
“We’re still working on the funding and it will be sometime in the first quarter of next year, as far as starting on the project,” Hauck said at the time. “We’re working hard to try to make it happen.”
Despite their hard work, however, Pioneer officials have had a difficult time securing the necessary financing and have asked the Forest Service for an extension on the financing date in their contract.
Hauck declined to comment on the process this week, as he said financial negotiations are ongoing.
Marlin Johnson of Pioneer Forest Products agreed.
“We’re still in the final throes of getting funding together,” said Johnson.
Asked what the timeline is expected to be on the funding, Johnson replied, “We know it’s going to be over the next three months.”
The thinning contract with the U.S. Forest Service under the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) is designed to thin trees in the Apache-Sitgreaves, Tonto, Coconino and Kaibab national forests. Pioneer won the bid for the contract on May 18, 2012, and subsequently announced plans to build the lumber-processing mill in Winslow.
The 4FRI contract calls for thinning of mostly smaller diameter trees on the four forests and divides the planned thinning into 10 parts, each one with a task order to be issued.
Forest Service Contracting Officer Gilbert Massiatt said Pioneer’s contract is not affected by the delay.
“They had an estimated amount of time for ascertaining funding,” said Massiatt. “They just asked if that could be extended.”
Massiatt said the estimate on the financing date is not a factor in the contract.
“We didn’t require anybody, at that time, to submit an actual, concrete date, because you never know what will happen,” he said. “At this point I don’t see any problem with that. They’re making progress.”
Massiatt said the execution of the contract would be the key factor and that the financing of the operation doesn’t concern his office.
“We’re only concerned that when we say to go out and cut trees, they get out there and cut trees,” Massiatt said. “We’ll issue the first task order sometime in April, and then we want to see them get out there and get to work cutting trees.”
Johnson said Pioneer is ready to begin work. The Forest Service has not yet issued a task order under the 4FRI contract.
“We are probably going to try operating on one task order in May when the snow goes off,” said Johnson. “That’s the tentative plan.”
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By Nick Worth