Economic development officials in Lincoln County are hoping the sound of buzzing saws will soon be heard again at the old Stimson Lumber Co. sawmill site in Libby. The possibility of putting a small mill on the industrial site is being explored after the Montana Department of Commerce awarded a research grant to the Kootenai River Development Council.
Two-thirds of the grant was funded through the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund and the rest from the Lincoln County Port Authority, for a total of $26,250. Development council executive director Paul Rumelhart said the small sawmill could employ five people, welcome news in the economically depressed community.
“Lincoln County has had the highest unemployment in the state and we’re not proud of that, so we want to create jobs,” Rumelhart said.
The Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund grant was established in 2005 by the state Legislature. It’s designed to promote economic growth and job creation across the state.
Rumelhart said the grant will help the Libby-based development council look into using the old Stimson site, located on the east side of town and owned by the port authority, for a sawmill that would specialize in using oversized timber. Rumelhart said many mills have diameter restrictions, but that wouldn’t be the case with this new mill.
For nearly a century, Libby was the site of a major sawmill, but it was shut down in the early 1990s. Rumelhart said in its heyday, the sawmill took in more than 250 million board feet annually. A new sawmill would take in anywhere from 1 million to 2 million board feet annually, Rumelhart said.
“We have buildings and facilities we want to use and we want to create jobs,” Rumelhart said. “We have all of the local intelligence to operate such a facility and the trees keep growing everyday.”
Although Rumelhart said it may be sometime before saws start buzzing at the site, the development council is already in talks with a potential customer. Montana Timber Products of Anaconda produces specialty wood products for internal and external siding, flooring and accents. Established in 2010, owner John Giuliani said using local timber is important to his company.
“Our company is growing and we want to utilize the timber products in Montana to the best of our ability,” Giuliani said.
Although the timber company does not have a formal agreement with the development council, Giuliani said he hoped to see results from the study in the coming months.
Rumelhart is quick to say the project is still not a done deal. Who would own the mill and how the development council would be involved with its operation has yet to be determined. The only certainty is that Rumelhart is hopeful.
“Historically we’ve always had a sawmill here and it’s always worked out,” he said. “It’s a good fit because we have a lot of loggers here.”
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