Sawmill bankruptcy leaves Emmett hanging

Potential jobs at the Idaho sawmill have evaporated as the owner tries to fend off the bank.

zkyle@idahostatesman.comAugust 29, 2013 

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The fate of the sawmill in Emmett, which has operated in only two brief stints since opening in 2010, may be determined at a trustee sale. “I’d just like to see the mill running again,” Gem County Commissioner Carlos Bilbao said. “Who it is has no impact on me. I’d like to see Emerald Forest make a go of it since they’ve put so much into this. It was their dream and their vision. But we’ll see how it turns out.”

KYLE GREEN — kgreen@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

Dick Vinson said his dream of reviving his sawmill in Emmett isn't yet dead. But that dream — or at least Vinson's part in it — might be gasping its dying breath.

Emerald Forest Products is bankrupt and owes more than $1.9 million to Northwest Bank. The Boise bank, formerly Western Capital Bank, is foreclosing on the mill. A trustee sale scheduled for Aug. 14 that would have transfered ownership to the bank or to a third-party bidder was delayed for 30 days, theoretically giving Vinson more time to pay the bank and avoid losing the mill.

Vinson, a Montana entrepreneur with decades in the timber industry, told the Idaho Statesman that his partners are trying to come up with the money. He wouldn't discuss details.

"We're not entirely out of it," he said. "We're still in there, still trying to put something together."

Vinson tried to bring the timber industry back to Emmett by opening the sawmill in 2010 at 500 W. Main St. He used $4 million in federal economic stimulus money and said he invested at least $7 million of his own funds in the project. He bought used equipment from mills that had closed in recent years.

Vinson and representatives from the bank and trustee declined to comment on the sawmill's value. The Gem County assessor's office appraised the land at $138,434 for 2013. The structure value fell from $843,000 in 2012 to $500,142 this year because of inactivity, and the personal property — meaning all of the machinery and other property inside the building — fell from $4.4 million in 2012 to $1.9 million.

County assessments are typically less than market values.

Emerald operated in brief stints during 2010 and 2012, but the cobbled-together equipment never worked efficiently enough to make it a viable board producer, Vinson said.

Nonetheless, Vinson said the mill is ready to produce short "stud" lumber, such as 2-by-4s. Wildfires are creating timber perfect for stud, he said.

"We were trying to cut pine boards before, but it's really a fit for the stud market and all this burned timber," he said. "You could do all the additional work as you were operating to make it efficient on cutting boards down the road. You could finish that up."

Local leaders want the jobs an operating mill would provide, whether under Vinson or a new owner.

Gem County Commissioner Carlos Bilbao grew up in Emmett. His relatives worked in mills operated by Payette Lumber Co., which later became Boise Cascade.

He said as many as 700 people worked at Emmett's Boise Cascade mill at its peak. The mill closed in 2001, and many of the newly jobless moved out of town.

The 45 jobs the Emerald mill would provide would help the city's struggling economy, Bilbao said.

"Naturally, I hope someone would buy and reopen the mill with the monetary backing to carry them through at least for a few years," he said. "They will have to do a bit of remodeling to make it more productive. Whoever buys it is going to have to invest some money into it."

The public trustee sale is Sept. 13. Northwest Bank would gain control of the mill if no buyer emerges. The bank could later sell the mill, which could be a simpler transaction if foreclosure and bankruptcy proceedings wrap up this fall or winter. How long a buyer would need to get the machinery operating efficiently enough to process boards remains unknown.

Emmett Mayor Bill Butticci remains hopeful.

"It hasn't been so much frustrating as just being patient with it to give it a chance to take off again," Butticci said. "The lumber industry is not easy to be in right now. Getting that facility up and running will take time."

Vinson said he has received expressions of interest from several prospective buyers. Bilbao said as many as eight buyers from Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Montana have voiced interest during the last year.

"That doesn't mean they are still interested today," Bilbao said. "If there are that many, hopefully one will be willing to come in and do something."

Many in Emmett will keep an eye trained on the sawmill.

"I really don't have a sense for what's going to happen," Vinson said. "It's really out of my hands."

Zach Kyle: 377-6464

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