Idaho sawmill to expand, add jobs

New kilns will boost employment at the mill near New Meadows that survived the recession with federal economic stimulus money.

THE STAR-NEWSDecember 17, 2013 

1217 BI Evergreen.JPG

Scott Padilla of Kamiah welds a pipe in one of the new drying kilns at Evergreen Forest near New Meadows.

TOM GROTE — Star-News

The Evergreen Forest Products mill will add 12 full-time jobs with the completion of three lumber drying kilns.

The kilns are expected to be completed by the end of the year and will ease a bottleneck in production, manager Mark Krogh says.

The added jobs will see Evergreen Forest return to operating levels not seen since 2000. Lumber production will be underway between 6 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. five days a week, Krogh says.

With the new workers, Evergreen will employ 77 people in the sawmill, which is on U.S. 95, seven miles west of New Meadows. It also will employ eight people in the sawmill’s electrical generating plant and 25 at the company’s planing mill in Kooskia. Wages range from $15 to $23 per hour.

The kilns are new to the sawmill but not to Evergreen. They have been sitting idle in Kooskia since Evergreen closed its sawmill there seven years ago.

They were disassembled, brought south to the sawmill near New Meadows and reassembled, Krogh says.

The large metal buildings can hold up to 540,000 board feet of freshly sawn lumber. Steam to dry the lumber is piped in from the company’s electrical plant, where waste wood is burned to power turbines.

The new kilns will double the capacity of the sawmill’s ability to dry 16-foot boards. The boards vary in width from four to 20 inches. By drying the boards on site, the finished product is less than half the weight of raw boards and costs less to ship to finishing mills, Krogh says.

In a rare occurrence, Evergreen is almost exclusively cutting pine boards that end up as doors, windows, trim board and baseboards.

That is a shift from past years, where fir made up two-thirds of the sawmill’s production to make boards for home framing.

SURVIVING THE SLUMP

Sawmills around the region closed followed the collapse of the national housing market during the late 2000s, and Evergreen’s survival has led to more business for the family-owned company, Krogh says.

“We are one of only three pine mills in all of Idaho,” says Krogh, 38, who started in maintenance at the sawmill in 2001.

One reason Evergreen survived the downturn was a grant of $2.5 million in federal stimulus funds that built the existing three dry kilns in 2009.

That funding “enabled us to make critical improvements that helped to save the company,” Krogh says.

Most of Evergreen’s employees live in Council, New Meadows or Riggins.

Krogh hopes the company can hire the new employees locally, but is hampered by the fact few local potential workers have experience working with heavy equipment.

The resurgence at Evergreen Forest comes as the company celebrates 50 years under the same family ownership.

The New Meadows sawmill was purchased in 1963 by Maurice G. Hitchcock and was moved in the mid-1980s across U.S. 95 from its previous location, where the kilns now sit.

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