On March 13, The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced the allocation of $3.5 million in funds for community-driven development projects across the state. Among the four projects chosen to receive funding was the reopening of an alder sawmill in Raymond, Washington—a project that the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure (CSI) has helped bring to the attention of state leaders.
CSI, a research and policy center housed at Evergreen and dedicated to developing innovative solutions to public works challenges, has been collaborating with residents of Raymond to plan the retrofitting of the mill since fall 2017, and the funds supplied by the DNR will help bring that plan to fruition. In total, DNR will allocate $1.5 million to the Raymond project and CSI will receive $100 thousand of that allotment to continue its work with the project.
Funding for the project is part of DNR’s Rural Communities Partnership Initiative, an effort headed by Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.
CSI Director Rhys Roth spoke to the significance of DNR’s involvement with the project.
“This project would not have been possible without the support of Public Lands Commissioner Hillary Franz,” said Roth, “She believes that communities know best what they need, but often lack the resources for economic initiatives.”
The reopening of the sawmill—known previously as Pacific Hardwoods, and which will now be known as New Pacific Hardwoods Mill—will create an estimated 49 jobs and 2.1 million in wages in Pacific County, an area with the third highest unemployment rate in the state. The reopened sawmill, which is located within the Port of Willapa Harbor, will produce new sustainability-harvested products and build an energy innovation district.
“This is the kind of pragmatic project that realizes Commissioner Franz’s vision for revitalizing rural economies in ways that benefit both the economy and environment,” said Roth.
Raymond resident Gordon Chaffee has played an important role in the effort to restore and revitalize the sawmill. “When I was young, I worked at an old growth sawmill,” said Chaffee, “We were proud people thinking we were making products that made others’ lives better. For 40 years now, our industry has been a scourge for the harm it has done to our forests. One of my fondest hopes has been that we could bring this industry back into being acceptable.”
“Our goal is to grow, not by processing more trees, but rather by getting more value out of the ones we do process,” Chaffee explained.
Chaffee expressed deep gratitude for the continued efforts of both the DNR and CSI with regard to the project.
“You don’t understand how honored I feel to be considered a partner with both the DNR people who were present at the launch announcement, but also with CSI,” said Chaffee, “[They] represent all of the people I’ve thought we should sit done with for the last 30 years.”
Another important aspect of the project—one which the CSI will play a pivotal role in—will involve determining the economic feasibility of an energy innovation district (EID) in the area where the soon-to-be-reopened sawmill is located.
A recent DNR press release highlighted the significance that the creation of an EID would have on the area, stating that it “would allow businesses to share their energy and reuse waste systems.” Not only would this have a substantial, positive impact on the environment, but it would also, according to the DNR, “attract new and existing business to locate near the mill.”
“CSI is very proud to be a partner supporting this work,” said Roth.