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Spokane Valley company sees good future for cross laminated timber products

 Blocks of cross laminated timber, seen on a workbench.
Oregon Forest Resources Institute, via Flickr/Creative Commons

The owners of a Spokane Valley plant that specializes in cross laminate timber, or CLT, are hopeful they can tap into a growing market for the product in the Northwest.

CLT is made from layers of wood stacked in alternate directions and bonded with adhesives. The result is a building material that is very strong and lightweight.

It can be made from much smaller trees than have been used in traditional lumber products. Those smaller trees are the exact type of material that needs to be thinned from Washington forests in an effort to make them less fire prone.

“If there aren't markets for smaller diameter trees, the taxpayer, the public, has to come up with the difference,” said Andrew Spaeth, of the Washington Department of Natural Resources. “We've got to subsidize and pay for that work to be implemented. If there's a market for smaller diameter trees that creates on opportunity to make that fuels reduction work, the forest thinning work that we want to do [becomes] economically viable, or at least costs less.”

Absent a market for those trees, in many cases they would be burned as waste material, Spaeth said.

In Spokane Valley, the owners of a plant that produces CLT floor and wall plates, operated by Mercer Mass Timber, said the market is ripe for their products.

The plant originally opened in 2019, but when former owner Katerra went bankrupt, it shut its doors. The factory was purchased by Mercer in late 2021, but only in the last in the last three months it has adopted a full operating shift, with nearly 100 employees.

Mercer Director of Product Todd Beyreuther said he believes CLT is poised to take off in the market, in part because building codes in Washington, Oregon and California have adopted it as a new class of construction.

“Right now, it's competitive in larger buildings like commercial office buildings, institutional buildings, or mid-rise housing, and where were targeting the market is to push more into middle housing types such as town homes, apartment flats, which is really the big needs in our housing crises,” Beyreuther said.

To that end, Mercer has partnered with a design partner to develop a two-story prototype town home model constructed of CLT materials to help spur interest in their product. The company is investing $50 million in capital projects at the Spokane Valley plant over the next two years.

Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.