A small-diameter wood-processing plant should begin operations in Wallowa in the near future employing three or four people. The primarily post and pole operation will process wood from 3 to 6 inches in diameter.
The plant was purchased through grant money procured by Wallowa Resources and meant to be a part of the Joseph Timber Company once that mill began to operate. After two years of inactivity at the mill site in Joseph the small plant is headed to Wallowa.
The mill is owned by Wallowa County Community Solutions, Inc., a for-profit entity associated with the nonprofit Wallowa Resources.
David Hockett of Joseph has been named project manager of the post and pole facility, which will also market other types of wood products. Hockett says that firewood may be shipped to locations outside of Wallowa County and that shrinkwrap firewood, like that sold in major chain stores, may be sold as well. Yet another possibility is a little known product known as Engineered Large Woody Debris (ELWD) which is represented by an interest group from Seattle, Wash. There also might be a market for watershed restoration type products, said Hockett.
The project manager went to the Wallowa City Council April 8 with the proposal to place the operation on 7 1/2 acres of city property located between the city's sewage lagoons and the railroad tracks. The council agreed in principal to the proposal and has had the city's attorney draw up a lease. Mayor Marge Sarmento said there is a chance of a special council meeting being held to expedite the process.
The city would initially lease the land for $200 per month with the possibility of incremental increases once the business gets up and running.
Hockett said he hopes to have the operation producing product within 90 days of the signing of the lease.
Once the lease is signed a large cement pad will be laid and the equipment will be anchored in place. If possible a metal building will be built around and over the equipment before winter sets in.
Hockett is hoping that the proximity to the railroad line will result in the use of the railroad to ship the mill's products.
The mill will employ one manager at a living wage and two or three other employees at entry wage positions. Hockett hopes in the future to advance the other workers to living wage positions.
"They gave a good sales job to me," said Sarmento. "It sounds like they have a good future."
"My goal is to create as many jobs as I can in Wallowa," said Hockett.