processes logs from
the Columbia River.
By Cary Clayton
For thousands of years storms and floods have washed
trees down to the Columbia River. Over time a whole
forest's worth of the stems have sunk to the river's bottom.
With the coming of settlement, thousands of logs harvested
upriver then rafted downstream also sank and added
to the unseen forest.
Small tugs equipped with
advanced sonar equipment
locate logs in the river.
Today Ross Bennett and his partners in Underwater Timber
Salvage Corporation (UTSC) are working to complete the
voyage those logs once began. Utilizing state of the art equipment,
the company locates, recovers and processes the
sunken stems then, using advanced, thin kerf, sawmill technology
from AWMV Industrial Products, converts them into unique and highly coveted specialty
Getting His Feet Wet
UTSC was founded when Ross Bennett
left the oil exploration business
and relocated to Northwest Oregon. In
1996 he purchased a 1950 vintage tugboat
because, he says, "I simply loved
the water and it was a good deal."
In the course of operating his tug,
Ross heard stories about unpleasant
encounters between boats and submerged
logs. His interest piqued, Ross
inquired of a physicist about the percentage
of logs once transported on the
river that may have sunk rather than
reaching their intended destination. An
estimate of 5-7 percent surprised him
but it turned out to be an estimate affirmed
by old tugboat captains who
had worked the river in the days of the
Ross Bennett’s innovative aproach to “logging” yields
high grade lumbers valued by architects and designers
even as it leads to waste reduction and a broad range
of other environmental benefits.
Ross put his previous experience to
work and began "looking at the river
bottom" employing sonar. His efforts
revealed a riverbed saturated with
logs. He began to wonder, "Are they
any good for anything?"
To find out, Ross recovered some
sample logs and had them milled. The
results, he says, were astounding. The
logs were nearly as sound today as
they were the day they sank years, or
even centuries, ago.
Some logs pulled from the river still have timber company brands visible on them, brands that may have been applied 100 years ago and more.
Excited, Ross decided to do something
about his discovery. But, he says,
two major obstacles had to first be
overcome: ownership of the logs had to
be clarified and compliance with a vast
array of regulations had to be assured. "Just because a log is in the river does
not mean that it is free for the taking,"
he says. "Migratory logs are considered
navigation hazards but buried, stationary
ones are owned by the State. We
can only harvest migratory logs."
After much effort, UTSC was issued
in 2003 a permit to salvage logs in the
Columbia River between the Canadian
border and the river's mouth. The company
had gained joint stamps of approval
from the Corps of Engineers,
the Department of Fish and Wildlife,
the State and the National Oceanic &
To harvest logs, UTSC locates stems
on the river bottom using a "side viewtop
view sonar" equipped research vessel.
Sections of the river are
systematically mapped and the location
of each log is electronically
recorded with Global Positioning System
coordinates. "Mapping logs," Ross
says, "is a Herculean task and we have
just begun to scratch the surface."
Stems are extracted from the water
using a Caterpillar 350L excavator
mounted on a 43 by 147 foot barge. A
sonar-generated computer image allows
precision. Logs can be recovered
from as much as 28 feet of water. Removal
is coordinated with appropriate
agencies to ensure minimal navigational
and environmental impact.
All logs are removed from the river
bottom, not just those with possibly
high value. Species include Douglas fir,
Western hemlock, big leaf maple and
The recovered logs are decked on the
barge and transported to the UTSC mill
by hired tug. UTSC also has an agreement
to remove hazardous, untreated
pilings from the river. Those pilings will
yield #1 lumber when processed.
Marty Sprinzl estimates 10 percent
of the logs are sold for pulp and 90 percent
are high quality saw logs
processed by the firm's LT300 sawmill.
River logs generally don't need debarking
so, once ashore, they're cut to
length, pressure washed and decked.
Fresh cuts on log ends are treated with
stain inhibitor to prevent 'air exposure
An entire thin kerf sawmilling system, complete with headrig, resaw, and edger and capable of sawing, in softwoods, 7-10 million board feet and more per year can be set up in a compact space for less than the cost of a single machine in a traditional mill setting.
Processing Recovered Logs
Stems are “harvested” by means of a Caterpillar 350L excavator mounted on a 43 by 147 foot barge. Logs can be recovered from as much as 28 feet of water.
To process its logs UTSC selected an
AWMV LT300 based production system.
Two factors were primary in the
decision. First, Ross points out, a complete
AWMV sawmill capable of
milling seven to ten million board feet
of softwood lumber per year can be installed
for less than the cost of single
machines in most conventional mills. At least as important, Ross continues,
the very thin .055-inch bands used by
both the LT300 and its associated
equipment allows for extraordinary recovery
both in terms of value and
AHyster forklift delivers logs to the
LT300, which functions as a headrig in
UTSC's system. Flitches are removed
until the log is ready to be broken
down into cants for further processing
or into specialty beams and other products.
According to Mike Earlywine,
UTSC's sawyer, "We process virtually
the entire log into lumber. No large
slabs go to waste here."
Beams are set aside while boards
and cants are evaluated for grade potential,
then processed. Cants are resawn
through a twin unit Wood-Mizer
Multihead re-saw running .055 kerf
blades while material directly off the
headrig is processed using a Wood-
Mizer E430 Edger. The finished product
is graded, sorted and stacked for
The AWMV system provides UTSC
the ability to "custom mill" each log. As
Marty explains, a broad range of
species comes up from the bottom of
the river but, beyond that, "The logs in
the river are often colored by minerals
so the lumber is varying shades of grey,
green and blue coveted by customers
who want a unique effect." Until a log
is milled, it is not possible to see exactly
what will come out of it.
Boards are separated by color and
species, then sold in lots. One builder
buys colored lumber for custom homes
that includes flooring, trim and cabinets,
all with the same hue. Lumber
from unique logs is also sold as a unit
for custom projects.
Unique logs also means yield must
be maximized. According to Ross, the
.055 kerf AWMV's LT300 provides increases
yield from each log well in excess
of 15 percent above Doyle scale
and, if the log has any taper, the increase
in yield is 30 percent or more. Referring to the 1.7 million board feet
of lumber produced each year so far he
adds, "Ultra thin kerfs means a lot
more product and a lot less sawdust. We feel good about that but it is good
Underwater Timber Salvage Corporation
is completing the harvest of timber
that, in some cases, began over 100
years ago. In its unique approach the
company stands as an example of the
innovation a resurgent timber industry
has seen in recent years as it
learns to practice conscientious environmental
stewardship in bringing to
market the wood products a vibrant
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