By: The Working Forest Staff
THE ACADIANA ADVOCATE — Transforming Louisiana’s forests into various tree-based products made from fast-growing pine to hardwood such as oak is a growing business as developers are on track to build $557 million of sawmill projects in the state.
The newest is a $240 million sawmill planned in Bienville Parish by a joint venture between Ruston-based Hunt Forest Products and privately held Canadian timber business Tolko Industries Ltd., based in Vernon, British Columbia.
The companies plan to use local timber to produce 320 million board feet of lumber annually from 1.3 million tons of trees. Each partner will own 50% of the new mill, which is considered a foreign direct investment in the U.S. economy but will be operated on a day-to-day basis by Hunt Forest Products.
The 225-acre project would create 130 jobs paying an average salary of $57,400 plus benefits. Some of the site is where Weyerhaeuser previously operated its iLevel lumber mill near Taylor until its closure in 2009, laying off 39 employees at the time.
“This (Taylor) sawmill will provide a local outlet for the massive inventory of southern yellow pine that exists in this state,” said James D. Hunt, co-owner of Hunt Forest Products, which controls 75,000 acres of timberland across the state.
Louisiana sawmills already produce roughly 3 billion board feet of lumber each year. Hurricane Laura, which pummeled southwest Louisiana in late August and headed north through the state, damaged 800,000 acres of timberland across 22 parishes. The LSU Ag Center estimated that the industry lost 3 million board feet of timber, an amount that could have provided feedstock for 25 sawmills for a year.
Some of the wood from Louisiana supplies the U.S. housing market, which saw lumber prices shoot up from roughly $300 per 1,000 board feet to $1,600 as the coronavirus pandemic temporarily closed some mills. Most recently, prices have settled back down closer to $630.
Construction on the Bienville Parish mill is expected to start in early 2022 to wrap up by early 2023 and would support 300 construction jobs.
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