Editors note: Ryon will be writing a series of columns on this subject for several weeks. This week is part one.
There it sits, the largest, wholly owned contiguous block of industrial zoned property in King County. It’s been dormant for three years now, after being a regional economic engine for almost 100 years. Now that the Snoqualmie Economic Development, Branding and Marketing Plan has been out for public comment for a few months, it may be appropriate to have an open dialogue within the community about the future of the mill site.
At the risk of overstepping my bounds, I’d like to humbly suggest an approach to reawakening this former dynamic industrial site of the Upper Snoqualmie Valley for the consideration of the Weyerhaeuser Co., city of Snoqualmie and King County. If you think it has merit, then let’s find a way to establish a dialogue between all the stakeholders. It’s time to put the mill site back to work, providing profits to the owners, family-wage jobs for possibly up to a 1,000 blue- and white-collar workers, much needed B&O tax revenue and open space designation for the Mill Pond.
Current situation: the Snoqualmie mill site is zoned Industrial under the Snoqualmie Valley community plan and is identified as an Urban Growth Expansion Area. The size of the mill site (including the mill pond) is approximately 480 acres and is wholly owned by the Weyerhaeuser Co.
The mill site is roughly divided evenly into floodway and flood plain designations a defined within the Shoreline Management Act. The mill pond, which was reclassified from a conservancy shoreline to a rural shoreline in 1992, is approximately 160 acres and fully inside the floodway.
Future construction upon the mill site is permissible within the flood plain (approx. 240 acres) in accordance with the constraints of the “Zero Rise” policies, and King County SV-P18, unless a hydraulically sound way can be found to remove the flood plain designation.
Sorry for all the jargon up to now; but it is important to know the facts and environmental sensitivities upon the mill site in order move forward with all the stake holder’s needs in mind.
Brief history of the Weyerhaeuser mill site: The mill site had been an active, integrated lumber and plywood manufacturing and log storage business since 1896. The Snoqualmie Lumber Co. started out as a small business, suffering destruction from fire twice within its first four years of operation. The mill avoided further fire damage and prospered.
In 1916, the mill and the extensive timberland was purchased from the Fisher family by the Weyerhaeuser Timber Co. It grew rapidly from the vast infusion of capital. Production on the mill site reached its height during the war years into the mid 1960s, when over 1,200 men and women working three shifts found steady and well-paying jobs. The community was a hustle and bustle of activity with two national railroads moving lumber and logs in every direction 24 hours around the clock.
After the mid-1960s, production showed points of sporadic highs; but the trend was a steady decline as the regional old-growth timber inventory was harvested and replaced with fast growing, but smaller, second-growth timber. The old-growth conversion facilities at the mill site had to give way to more efficient, smaller log mills.
In 1989, the plywood mill burned to the ground and was never rebuilt. Plywood was losing too much market share to other structural panels. In 1992, the old-growth lumber mill was shut down. All second-growth logs harvested from the Snoqualmie Tree Farm were trucked to the White River mill in Enumclaw. The sort yard was closed in the mid-1990s. The remaining production facilities were the drying kilns and the upgraded lumber finishing and shipping facilities. These production units kept the mill site in operation until its final closure in 2003.
After 105 years of continuous lumber manufacturing, a grand and glorious era came to an end.
Dick Ryon is a former land use manager for Weyerhaeuser Cascade Operations at Snoqualmie. Contact him by e-mailing RARyon@comcast.net.