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Back on board: Solway plant reopens to wood deliveries

As two logging trucks leave Norbord's oriented-strand board plant Monday morning in Solway, a long line of semitrailers - 26 at the time of this photo - wait to unload wood. The plant stopped accepting timber Nov. 23 because it had too much at the time. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper1 / 2
Larry Weiss of Park Rapids removes his chains on a load of timber he delivered Monday morning to Norbord's oriented-strand board plant in Solway. Weiss waited more than two hours to unload his trailer as the plant began receiving timber for the first time since Nov. 23. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper2 / 2

After closing to timber deliveries more than three weeks ago, Norbord opened its oriented-strand board plant at Solway to a line of trucks Monday.

By midday, the line grew to more than two dozen drivers looking to unload timber. That was up from 12 when the plant opened its gates at 7 a.m.

For area logging companies, the reopening came just in time.

"We have wood on the ground we are trying to push out," said Dan Lundberg, owner of Lundberg Forest Products. "Everybody is in the same boat. Everyone wants to get in to get a check."

The Norbord plant closed Nov. 23 with a glut of inventory on its lot, said Jack Wallingford, general manager at the Solway site.

"In that last week before we shut down, everybody rushed to get wood in," he said.

While Wallingford said it's not uncommon for the plant to stop taking wood.

In 2008, Norbord shut down its oriented-strand board plant for a long weekend. The stoppage, officials said, was due to a lack of wood for pulpwood, mainly due to a wet fall. About the same time, Ainsworth Lumber Co. closed its OSB plant at Bemidji, sending more than 100 workers elsewhere for work, and Potlatch Corp. announced three of its sawmills, including Bemidji, would take downtime due to poor market conditions.

This fall, Norbord's decision was prompted by a strong harvest and a business decision to regulate inventory, Wallingford said.

"We had phenomenally dry weather," he said. "We had more wood on the first of December than we ever had."

Wet conditions in 2010 and the first half of 2011 slowed deliveries, but a dry second half of 2011 gave Norbord plenty of wood for its mill.

"We're back to normal effective today," Wallingford said Monday.

Lundberg said his business normally delivers four to five truckloads to Solway each day, so the plant accepting deliveries was welcome news. In the winter, Norbord unloads up to 200 truckloads each day.

With loggers anxious to unload wood Monday, some waited nearly two hours to offload deliveries at Norbord, a publicly traded, international producer of wood-based panels with assets of $1 billion with 13 plant locations in the United States, Europe and Canada. The Solway plant is one of 11 oriented-strand board mills owned by the company.

With 600 cords of wood on the ground or landing, Lundberg said his crew has their work cut out for them this week.

"That would be a real strong week's hard push," Lundberg said. "We want to get it all done this week."

In the meantime, loggers switched gears.

Lundberg was able to harvest and sell firewood. "At least it helped," he said.

Richard Moore, director of Natural Resource Management for Beltrami County, said the stop in deliveries to Norbord proved to be a hardship to some loggers, but sometimes it happens. And many in the logging community adapted, delivering loads elsewhere or starting work on outstanding contracts.

The county sold more than $1.3 million in timber in 2011. On average, there are 70 to 75 sales each year, with 42,000 to 47,000 cords of wood harvested from the 147,000 acres of county land.

Steve Wagner

Grand Forks Herald Editor Steve Wagner can be reached at 701.780.1104 and He joined the Herald in April 2013, and previously worked as editor at the Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer and in several roles -- including news director, investigative reporter and crime reporter - at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. His reporting experience includes coverage of Dru Sjodin's disappearance and the federal death penalty case for her murderer, Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., along with several investigative projects. In his spare time, Wagner is an avid runner and occasionally writes about his experiences on his blog, Addicted to Running.

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