From today's Lewiston Tribune
Housing slowdown hits area mill Bennett Lumber lays off 45 percent of staff as lumber prices hit historic lowsBennett Lumber provides everything the leftists claim to support.
By Elaine Williams
February 19, 2008
Bennett Lumber Products has laid off about 45 percent of staff at its mill immediately west of Clarkston and cut the hours at its Princeton operation as the company faces lumber prices at historic lows.
The reduction at the Port of Wilma mill is likely one of the most significant impacts on this region from a national decline in housing starts. [the Port of Wilma belongs to and is located in Whitman County, across the Snake River from Clarkston]
The Princeton mill is running two shifts, eight hours a day, four days a week compared with 2006, when it had two shifts that went 10 hours a day, five days a week, said Brett Bennett, vice president of Bennett Lumber Products in Princeton.
Mill executives would like to bring back the Clarkston employees who are no longer working, Bennett said. "That's the hope, but at this point the prognosis looks pretty bleak."
Together the mills employed about 250 as of November 2007, but Bennett declined to update those numbers.
"We're doing everything we can to maintain the employment base while we're weathering the big storm," Bennett said. "We're going to hold this out."
Bennett Lumber Products is not alone in making adjustments. Bennett Forest Industries in Grangeville has made unspecified "minor reductions." Three Rivers Timber in Kamiah has eliminated eight hours from each of its two 40-hour shifts. Potlatch Corp., which has the largest sawmill in the region in Lewiston, is carefully monitoring the situation.
The price of 2-by-4 boards has fallen to less than $200 per 1,000 board feet compared with about $350 per 1,000 board feet two years ago.
The problems the mills are encountering are complex and change on a week-to-week basis, Bennett said.
Reducing production can be more complicated than cutting the hours a mill operates, Bennett said.
A number of mills made multiple-year commitments to purchase timber when lumber prices were higher and face financial penalties if they don't harvest trees by certain deadlines, Bennett said.
Some of Bennett Lumber Products holdings that fed its Clarkston mill had trees involved in the fires in the Pomeroy area in 2005 and 2006. That forced Bennett to log the property and not have trees on it in reserve, Bennett said.
Property owners are sometimes reluctant to commit to timber sales when lumber prices are low because they figure they might make more money if they wait, Bennett said.
Seemingly minor fluctuations can have a big impact, Bennett said.
He recently noticed that a mill in the Pacific Northwest outside this area returned to full production because the price of lumber increased by $7 per 1,000 board feet at the start of one week. The increase was gone less than seven days later and the added production had the potential to make competition tougher in an already sluggish market, Bennett said.
"Nobody wants to go out and buy logs in this market when you don't know what the price of lumber is going to do," Bennett said.
1. Local jobs that pay a "livable wage."
2. Locally owned and operated, keeping our dollars circulating locally.
3. Organically grown, sustainable, renewable product.
4. The company buys from local growers.
5. Provides a key-component to "affordable housing."
6. Their product provides habitat for our furry and feathered friends.
I look forward to the MCA and PARD rallying 'round the logging company. Heh.