After several months of construction, a massive investment by a local family could start paying dividends next month.
In the form of wood chips.
Work is nearing completion on the whole-log chip mill that Jack Buell Trucking is building on its property in Riverdale.
“We’re getting close and in fact we did a test-run on the mill last week and it worked very well,” Jack Buell.
Mr. Buell owns the company with his wife, Eleanor. The couple’s three sons Kevin, Mickey and Frank manage the business with their parents.
The Buells purchased the mill, which was located in Texas, earlier this year and moved it to St. Maries. It had started operations in the Lone Star State in 2014. Problems in operations, including with supply of logs, caused the mill to close about a year after it opened.
This is not a new business for Buell Trucking. The company has operated portable, diesel log-chippers for several years. What is new, however, is the amount of chips this mill will produce.
“We expect the increased production will require an additional 20 chip trucks to keep things flowing smoothly,” Mr. Buell said.
The company, which owns more than 200 trucks, recently hired more drivers and will continue to hire qualified applicants, he said.
The chipper, which is driven by a 1,750 horsepower electric motor, not only processing logs much faster than the portable chippers but it can also handle large logs.
Mr. Buell said his family has previously discussed investing in a chip mill. The recent upgrades at the Clearwater Paper mill in Lewiston, however, made this an opportune time to act, Mr. Buell said.
“After the upgrades at the Lewiston mill we expect a greater demand for chips. Our investment in this plant ensures we can meet that demand,” Mr. Buell said.
Jack Buell Trucking, which also operates a fleet of log trucks, has transported chips to the paper mill in Lewiston for more than 40 years. In addition to hauling chips from PotlatchDeltic’s plywood and lumber mills in St. Maries and Stimson’s mills in St. Maries and Plummer, the company provides service to mills throughout northern Idaho.
In addition to providing jobs here, the chip mill provides a local market for pulp logs. Area forests have a good supply of pulp logs and the proximity of the new St. Maries plant will help landowners, contractors and loggers alike, Mr. Buell said.
“We will have a market for pulp wood that is closer to resource,” Mr. Buell said.
Crews continue to work on the plant with plans to start production sometime in January.