Weyerhauser mill site options for the future

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  • Friday, October 3, 2008 2:53am
  • Opinion

Weyerhaeuser Co. is committed to liquidating more than 40 identified manufacturing sites and other properties that are duplicates of their other facilities or are not profitable. It is entirely likely the mill site is being quietly shown. In my view, a good candidate may be Sierra Pacific, an excellent lumber manufacturing business that had intended to purchase the vacant Weyerhaeuser Everett mill site until the city of Everett burdened the deal with a slew of over-reaching environmental restrictions.

The Snoqualmie Valley plan (SV-P18) conditions are not onerous, nor are they requirements that modern-day industrial businesses are not prepared to do. A community with a welcoming spirit will make every effort in helping new business interests to succeed in implementing these conditions as they set their sights building a profitable business and adding to the growing economy of the city of Snoqualmie and the Upper Valley.

The mill site is quite attractive to present-day industrialists. There is a healthy and thriving population; one that is well-educated and supportive of school system. Modern-day transportation corridors are in place with 30-minute access to the largest deep-water ports in Tacoma and Seattle, and fast access to Interstate-90 gets products on the road to eastern distribution points within minutes of the mill site.

There is a wide variety of businesses that could thrive here, such as fabrication and parts suppliers for Boeing; mobile home and land yacht manufacturers such as Monarch; window and door manufacturers such as Pella; furniture manufacturers such as Bassett; sporting goods manufacturers such as Nike and prefabricated housing manufacturing. And list could go on as far as your imagination could stretch. These companies require skilled and semi-skilled production workers and managers who command family-wage salaries.

This is all doable and within reach.

To recap the basics, the estimated 480-acre property has been owned and used as a forest products manufacturing and log storage facility by Weyerhaeuser Co. since 1916. Before that, the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Co. owned the property for about 20 years. After several elements of the facility were shut down during the 1990s, all remaining operations finally ceased in 2003.

Today, the unoccupied mill site is under the jurisdiction of King County. The current SV-P18 governs the use and jurisdiction of the mill site. It provides that so long as the site is exclusively used as an integrated forest products manufacturing and log storage facility, the land may remain under the jurisdiction of King County. If Weyerhaeuser, or its successors, move to establish other industrial uses under zoning code title 21 (as amended), then the city of Snoqualmie will be free to legislatively annex the mill site, which was previously agreed on by Weyerhaeuser in 1989.

The debate within the community should be which set of alternatives would bring the most vigorous growth and employment prospects to the mill site. Would a single entity, such as the forest products industry with its well-paying employment and historic cyclical economy be the best for the city of Snoqualmie? Or, would a mix of well-branded heavy industrial manufacturers bring a more stable, blended economy over the long term?

In my view (and believe me, I do not have a dog in this fight), whichever way Weyerhaeuser, the city and the community want to proceed, the infrastructure on the mill site needs a serious overhaul and environmental restoration. Flooding on the mill site and the surrounding areas needs to be better managed.

We’ve all seen the Mill Pond Road under water. We’ve seen Reinig Road 12 feet under water where the former Burlington Northern Railroad trestle was located.

For years, people fumed over the berm along the Mill Pond Road and said nothing openly until the Thanksgiving Day flood of 1992. Several important corrective steps were taken by the folks in North Bend and Snoqualmie.

During the first 50 years of operation, logs were primarily stored in the Mill Pond, from where they would be drawn into either the lumber mill or the plywood mill for processing. Dry land storage was also used, but not on a large scale until the Columbus Day wind storm hit the West Cascade range in the mid-1950s. Billions of board feet in timber were blown down from Oregon up to Canada. Large-scale emergency salvage operations immediately began bringing logs into hastily cleared sort yards all around the Northwest. At the mill site, that meant clearing 80 acres of an unused wetland that was situated westerly of the plywood operation and parallel to the Mill Pond Road. Massive volumes of logs were brought out of the woods for nearly three years.

Dick Ryon is a former land use manager for the Weyerhaeuser Cascade Operations at Snoqualmie. E-mail him at RARyon@comcast.net.

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