By Jim Stirling
Each log processed through the head rig becomes part of the metaphor. Every precision cut reinforces what community resolve can collectively achieve when it is driven by a vision, in this case to diversify the regional forest industry.
The Village of Valemount, B.C., its mayor and councillors, had a shrewd idea about how to expand the community’s role in the forest industry. It involved getting into the sawmilling business.
The village already had the essential ingredients represented by two sister companies owned by the village. The Valemount Community Forest (VCF) was created in 2007 and now has an allowable annual cut of 100,000 cubic metres. It contains the feedstock to support a sawmill with the capability of providing the larger class sizes of timber. It represents part of the resource profile under-utilized by the traditional forest industry. It still cloaks sections of the valleys surrounding Valemount, an attractive mountain-ringed village in east central British Columbia, near the border with Alberta.
The other key part of the village strategy—and the second sister company—is the Valemount Industrial Park (VIP). It offers the ideal location for the new sawmill.
The two village-owned assets are separate companies but share similar views and principles.
“Our goals are to develop and strengthen the economic diversity of the community while promoting social well-being in and around Valemount,” summarizes Andy Hubbell, mill manager with the VIP. “And to use community forest resources in ways that are sustainable, environmentally respectful and fiscally and legally responsible.”
The first major hurdle for the village was to find a suitable and available sawmill to acquire. The village team cleared that obstacle in Prince George. The mill was trucked back to Valemount in sections, for re-assembly at its new home in the VIP.
The timing turned out to be less than perfect. The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into everyone’s personal and business plans. Among the fallouts from the pandemic were a dislocation in supply chains compounded by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The global upheaval created frustration and delays in faraway Valemount. But now, in 2023, the rejuvenated VIP sawmill has overcome most of its problems and is now making lumber.
“Mainly we focus on speciality and value added planks and timbers,” explains Hubbell. “We are great with everything up to 2 x 10. We aren’t here to compete with the big boys for the 2 x 4 markets.” Versatility with larger speciality products is the mill’s forte. “We will do long term orders or one-offs—anything from bridges to cottage decks,” he explains.
“Most of our early orders have come from customers in B.C. and Alberta, though we are definitely looking to expand to other markets,” adds Hubbell.
Most of the medium and larger sized wood in the community forest targeted for use by the new mill are in Douglas fir and western hemlock, with limited volumes of spruce.
Logs scheduled for processing are trucked to the VIP sawmill yard by contractors. Awaiting them there is an eclectic assortment of log handling and processing machines. A Cat 924H wheel loader removes incoming logs from the trucks and feeds them as required into the sawmill. Another Cat machine, a TH560 telescopic fork lift, is used for the handling of hog fuel produced in the mill and sorted out for use by area farmers as animal bedding. The fork lift is also used as a utility machine for general yard work.
A Parpak International Transtar 4200 dump truck is used to haul hog fuel from the dump to storage areas. Another machine used in the millyard is a JLG Industries 80-H mobile elevating work platform.
The primary log breakdown unit in the mill is a Morbark headrig prefaced by a Morbark 640 debarker and an in-house made cut-off saw. Logs entering the mill are selected to best fit custom orders. “We can accept a 36-inch diameter log into our mill with a maximum length of 30 feet,” says Hubbell.
After the head rig has sawn the best available cants from each log, wood is squared and cut to length. “If large timbers are what’s required, the log will be sent directly to the slide out of the mill and gets piled outside. If we are cutting boards or small timbers, they will be transferred to the edger after the cut-off saw and cut down to size before being sent outside to be sorted and stacked,” he explains. Sideboards from the head rig are dropped out to the waste conveyor under the line. Trim ends from the cut off saw are also dumped directly to the waste conveyor along with waste from the edger.
All the waste material is directed to the mill’s chipper for screening. Oversize material is recycled through again while fines go to a Lock Block silo, explains Hubbell. Chips are loaded into bins for truck transportation to Kruger’s pulp mill in Kamloops, B.C. The family-owned, Montreal-based Kruger company completed its acquisition of the Kamloops mill in June 2022 from Domtar, the previous operator.
The sawmill’s edger is believed to be a 6 x 48 gang machine manufactured in the U.S. by Corley. The mill’s chipper also has a hazy pedigree. But Hubbell says it was recently upgraded through the addition of a new chipper knife system from Andritz AB. It’s designed to help achieve a higher and more uniform chip production.
The VIP sawmill was employing eight full-time production workers plus a millwright and a welder fabricator. “We have a really good crew. They’re all local, know each other and work well together.”
Mill throughput is an important consideration for any sawmilling operation. The VIP mill is no exception. But other factors come into play for the Valemount mill. Achieving the best value and quality wood products for its customers is an important measure of success, suggests Hubbell. It becomes a process of continual improvement and upgrades.
“We are currently working with VETS Sheet Metal on the installation of a dust control system for the mill,” points out Hubbell. VETS Sheet Metal is a 103-year-old provider of industrial ventilation, dust control and HVAC system design. Under VETS’ direction, in collaboration with AIRPLUS Industrial, the mill is installing a 38,000 CFM system, including a unique cyclo-filter collector.
Allpoints Fire Protection in Prince George was working with the mill team on the design and installation of an alarm and sprinkler system.
Other help was readily recruited from the local community, explains Hubbell. 4U All was prime contractor for the mill building and assembly; Swift Creek Solutions Inc. is the mill’s electrical contractor; Pete Capito is “an electrical wizard” who helped with difficult problems; Mike Savarella a local fabricating contractor along with Robert Johnson “who was very important in the assembly of the mill.”; Steve Smith, carpenter/contractor, and Gord Carson “who helped with ideas and input on what the mill should do and be.” They were all part of the Village of Valemount team, adds Hubbell, along with “the dedicated group of employees that make and continue to make the mill a reality.”
On the Cover:
The Village of Valemount, B.C., had a shrewd idea about how to expand the community’s role in the forest industry, involving getting into the sawmilling business, and using the village’s assets. That idea is now reality with the start-up of a sawmill in the community-owned Valemount Industrial Park which is being supplied with wood from the Valemount Community Forest. Read all about the new sawmill, and how the village is having its forestry vision achieved, beginning on page 28 of this issue (Cover photo courtesy of the Valemount Sawmill/Valemount Industrial Park).
In the driver’s seat …
The forest industry needs more women—and young people—in the driver’s seat of logging trucks, and there are programs out there to work on getting them in the seats of those logging truck cabs.
Canadian element to new Louisiana lumber mill
One of the largest new sawmills in North America—the $240 million (U.S.) Bienville sawmill in Louisiana—will be starting up later this year, and there’s a Canadian element to the operation, both in its construction, and ownership.
New home for harvester production
Logging equipment manufacturer A. Landry Fabrication now has a new facility for turning out their state-of-the-art Landrich 2.0 harvesters.
Building a new kiln helps build stronger customer relationships
B.C. cedar mill Gilbert Smith Forest Products recently built a new state-of the-art Nyle dry kiln that is allowing it to dry their wood in-house, and help build stronger relationships with customers.
Finding—and keeping—quality people
Richard Poindexter, President and Senior Recruiter with Search North America (SNA), on how to attract—and retain—quality talent for your wood products company.
Valemount sawmill vision
The village of Valemount, B.C., is seeing a community vision fulfilled, with the start-up of a new sawmill that is sourcing its timber from the community forest.
Sure—and safe—logging approach
Alberta’s Sureway Logging reflects sure stability—and a safe approach, including an award-winning safety record—in an ever-changing forest industry world.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
The past devastating forest fire season shows the urgent need for a shift in fire and forest management, towards co-existing with fire, says Jim Stirling.