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Wet Spring Forces Temporary Shutdown At Washington Sawmill

The wettest spring on record in eastern Washington state not only rendered state highways and other roads impassable, it has also kept loggers from harvesting timber and shuttered one sawmill for at least two weeks.

Last December, the crane at Vaagen Brother’s sawmill in Colville, Washington, was busily moving back and forth, grabbing logs with an enormous claw from high stacks - called the deck. 

But this week, that crane is not running and the deck is gone. 

“We did not expect to run short of logs,” said Josh Anderson, who has worked at Vaagen Brothers as the Timber Resource Manager for 18 years. 

“We’ve run out of logs over the years primarily because of price controls, sometimes because of weather, but it hasn’t happened very often,” he said.

During the winter, contractors were able to harvest logs, but when snowpack turned to spring runoff combined with the rainiest season on record, they couldn’t cut trees.

Anderson said this time of year, they usually try to stockpile logs for the wildfire season.

“This is the part—once we get logs flowing, then we need to build up a deck for potential fire shutdown,” Anderson said. “It’s kind of this game we play—build up a deck for mud season—for spring—and then build up a deck for fire season.”

Crews at Vaagen Brothers will use the next two weeks of downtime for annual maintenance. The company hopes the mill will be running again by Memorial Day.

File photo. This stockpile of timber kept the Vaagen Brothers mill running through 2016's wet fall.
Emily Schwing / Northwest News Network
Northwest News Network
File photo. This stockpile of timber kept the Vaagen Brothers mill running through 2016's wet fall.

Copyright 2017 Northwest News Network

Emily Schwing
Emily Schwing comes to the Inland Northwest by way of Alaska, where she covered social and environmental issues with an Arctic spin as well as natural resource development, wildlife management and Alaska Native issues for nearly a decade. Her work has been heard on National Public Radio’s programs like “Morning Edition” and “All things Considered.” She has also filed for Public Radio International’s “The World,” American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” and various programs produced by the BBC and the CBC. She has also filed stories for Scientific American, Al Jazeera America and Arctic Deeply.