Sen. Tester tours St. Regis sawmill

NBC Montana

by Scott Zoltan

Senator Jon Tester visited Tricon Timber in St. Regis Friday, to meet with workers and discuss the timber industry. Tester recently helped Tricon Timber reach an agreement to buy themselves out of contracts that some say could have put the company out of business.

“I just wanted to get out here and see how things were going, visit with them [and] find out how the economy’s doing. The housing market is starting to pick up some. That’s a good sign for these folks,” said Tester.

Tricon had signed four contracts with the US Forest Service, for a helicopter harvesting job, before the recession hit. The contracts cost $560 per thousand board feet to have federal logs delivered to the sawmill, but the recession caused prices to plummet, so they would have only received $240 back per thousand board feet.

The company’s negotiations with the Forest Service hit a standstill, and spokespeople for Tester says he convinced the agency to instate a rule that allows logging companies to pay a buy-out fee when the current economy makes contracts impossible.

Now, the company is focused on continuing its recovery. They’ve expanded in the last couple years, and have production by roughly 35 percent.

“There was about six years there where the timber industry was just flat. Prices went down to over 50 percent of what they were,” said owner Ken Verley.

Verley says the company is aiming to boost production by another 12 percent in 2014. The company employs roughly 200 Montanans, and is Mineral County’s largest private employer. It is also one of the biggest operating sawmills in the state.