A billion-dollar timber company often criticized for exporting wood to Japan confirmed Tuesday it has reached a tentative agreement to buy a Plummer, Idaho, sawmill.
Rayonier, based in Stamford, Conn., could close the deal by April with Pacific Crown Timber Products Inc., Rayonier spokeswoman Wendy Pugnetti said in a prepared statement from Seattle.
The deal includes a sawmill and wood-finishing facility, and an option to buy Pacific Crown’s 13,000 acres of North Idaho timberland.
The purchase price and the sale terms were not made public, although a source close to the deal said the plant and all the land would bring “tens of millions.”
Pacific Crown’s 150 workers would be let go in 60 days - the minimum shutdown requirement under federal law - but will be interviewed for jobs with the new company, the Rayonier statement said.
The deal does not include a plant that produces steam that Pacific Crown sells to Washington Water Power Co.
A timber industry spokesman who in the past has criticized Rayonier for buying scarce intermountain sawlogs and shipping them to Japan applauded the venture.
“It’s not a new demand on the local timber supply base. That sawmill has been there a long time,” said Ken Kohli of the Coeur d’Alene-based Intermountain Forest Industry Association.
“This company knows a lot about professional forest management and seems committed to maintaining an operation that has historically been part of our local circle,” he said.
Pugnetti said Rayonier will run the mill with private timber and does not deal in federal trees. Federal law prohibits log exporters from buying national forest timber unless they meet certain exemptions.
She said competitors “should be applauding” the purchase because it will keep 150 jobs in the area.
Pacific Crown owner Ed Shopot could not be reached for comment.
An industry observer noted that now is the ideal time for Shopot to sell because lumber prices are declining as high U.S. interest rates curb home building and Canadian wood floods the market.
Brett Bennett of Bennett Lumber Products Inc. in Princeton, Idaho, wasn’t thrilled with the news, however.
“Oh, great,” he said. “We are seriously concerned about the competition for logs now. Federal timber is tied up. The only thing left is state and private.”
The Rayonier announcement said no changes in product or work force are expected, although many of the finished goods will be shipped to the Far East.
Most of the company’s export business is for raw logs, which critics say robs Americans of jobs.
Rayonier has a Seattle office that courts Pacific Rim markets, and it owns timberland in Washington and Montana. Most of its 1.5 million acres is in New Zealand.
“We wouldn’t be purchasing a sawmill if we didn’t plan on operating it and producing a product,” Pugnetti said, responding to critics who say Rayonier is interested in only Pacific Crown’s land, not its sawmill.
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