Mar 032016

By Nolan Madden
A new year marks a turning point from the past 12 months and a fresh outlook for those on the way.
2015 ended on a high note for Navajo County with the key sale of the nearly century-old Apache Railway Company, which was spared from bankruptcy and closure through purchase by Aztec Land and Cattle Company Limited and a group of financial backers in early December, ensuring that the railway can continue operations and become profitable again.
This year, time and efforts won’t be wasted as officials use the railway and other local resources to bolster the county’s economy, according to Assistant Navajo County Manager and Economic Development Director Paul Watson.
“The other big thing we’re working on right now is the forest-related industries,” said Watson, referring to his participation in the Natural Resource Working Group, a partnership composed of wood products industry leaders, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service officials and Navajo County government representatives who have come together to determine the most effective means of engaging forest thinning measures throughout the county.
“We meet in order to discuss not only how to reduce fire danger in the county, but also to provide the resources necessary to accomplish this,” said Watson.
He cited as examples companies whose revenues depend on healthy county forest growth, such as Show Low-based wood-fuel pellet producer Forest Energy Corporation, the 27-megawatt biomass power plant, Novo BioPower, located in Snowflake, and sawmills in Eagar and Nutrioso which locally produce and distribute wood fence posts and the familiar bundles of firewood sold at many regional retailers.
“Right now, some of these industries are just getting by and some are completely out of wood. So we are coordinating with the Forest Service to make sure that they offer these timber sales in a way that everybody can stay in business and keep going, because it’s a big part of our economy,” he said.
Watson noted that forestry based businesses benefit Navajo County’s economy not only fiscally but also on the public safety front, specifically by helping mitigate wildfire safety risks.
Regarding the outlook for new industry development within the county, Watson related that an agricultural production developer is in the process of securing a contract to distribute their product from between Holbrook and Snowflake along the Apache Railway route.
“Once they get that signed, it will be full speed ahead for the operation,” he said, noting that no further details can be confirmed at this time.