Chelan County is moving ahead with plans for a wood products campus, which would use timber thinned from the county's forest land to make a variety of wood products. 

County commissioners and staff recently toured sawmills and biomass plants in the region to gather ideas for the future facility. 

Image of logging mill in Colville from Chelan County
Image of logging mill in Colville from Chelan County

Chelan County Natural Resources Director Mike Kaputa says they'll look to develop a hybrid type of plant, based on what they saw. 

"I wouldn't say that we saw any one facility that we thought was perfect for Chelan County, but some combination of those things we think is going to be perfect for Chelan County," said Kaputa. "So, we have a lot of ideas, and we have a lot of partners that are working with us on this, so we're going to be looking into this very seriously over the next few months." 

Among the stops the commissioners and staff made were in Colville and Wallowa, Ore. 

In Colville, they toured Vaagan Brothers Lumber, a company started in the 1950s and today is a leader in the west in sustainable forestry.  

In Wallowa, they toured the Heartwood Biomass facility. Heartwood takes wood that is underutilized by the traditional logging industry and turns it into various wood-based products. 

Kaputa says they'll be working to figure out what products can be derived from the Chelan County forest and what type of facility needs to be built. 

"We're going to be talking about, given the work that's going to occur on the national forest here over the next five to 10 years, what are the best product lines that we think could come from that, and then what kind of infrastructure do we think we could bring here to support that," Kaputa said. 

He said the county has spent two years coming up with several assessments of the wood supply and the different product lines that could come from that wood supply in the forests of Chelan County. 

Kaputa said some type of facility will be in place to serve as a wood products campus in two years. He said the price tag would be between $15-$20 million to build the facility and/or convert existing buildings into one of more plants.  

He said funding could come through several sources, including county economic development sales tax collections as well as state partners and the forest service itself. 

The county has a good neighbor authority agreement to with the forest service to go into the Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest and conduct the work to thin the forest. 

The process of thinning the forest of excess timber and using the wood to produce useful products - lumber for building purposes, firewood, poles, wood chips, etc. - would help achieve the goal making the forest healthier and protecting it from wildfires. 

Kaputa said the forest land in Chelan County needs held because the decline of the forest in the county is well documented and the need for treatment is well known and well documented. 

"Chelan County is the highest risk community in the state for potential wildfire damage," said Kaputa. 

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