Frederickson site under consideration for major sawmill

Staff writerJune 10, 2014 

A California timber company, the second-largest lumber producer in the nation, is assembling a site at Frederickson in southern Pierce County to build a major new sawmill that could employ as many as 200 workers.

The company, Sierra Pacific Industries, is still in what local economic development officials and the company call the “due diligence phase” of its project.

“We’re still doing feasibility analysis at this stage,” said Mark Pawlicki, a Sierra Pacific spokesman.

During that phase, the company is investigating the potential benefits and detriments of the site they’ve picked to determine whether building there will be economically feasible.

“They’ve not pulled the trigger on the project yet,” said Denise Dyer, Pierce County’s economic development director. “They’ve not been very public about their plans because they want to be sure about all of the issues before they make a decision.”

Pawlicki said that while the company hasn’t made a firm decision about the Frederickson project, the site is “a nice piece of property” because of its industrial zoning and its access to rail.

The potential sawmill site sits near existing Ikea and Whirlpool distribution warehouses at the intersection of 38th Avenue East and 200th Street East.

Pawlicki said the site eventually could be as large as 270 acres.

According to local real estate sources, the timber company, through a related company, Frederickson Industrial Park LLC, has been taking options and buying parcels of land in the area with contingencies relating to environmental and other issues at the site.

The latest of those deals was a two-parcel contingent sale last week in which the Port of Tacoma agreed to sell Frederickson Industrial Park LLC land at 196th Street East and Canyon Road East.

Under the terms of that sale, approved by the Port of Tacoma Commission at its Thursday meeting, the development company would pay the port nearly $3.2 million for the property. The company offer included $50,000 in earnest money for the two parcels.

The development company included a six-month feasibility period in the sale agreement.

Scott Francis, the port’s real estate director, told commissioners that the two port parcels were among multiple land acquisition deals Sierra Pacific and its surrogate have made in the area to assemble the mill site.

The county’s economic development department has been talking with Sierra Pacific for about six months, said Dyer.

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy has designated the sawmill as an “executive priority project.” The economic development department has appointed a county economic development official to be point man to help Sierra Pacific through whatever permitting and infrastructure issues it encounters.

Dyer said if Sierra Pacific needs either 200th Street East or 38th Avenue East extended, the county will work with the company to accomplish that extension. The timber company would have to pay any costs involved. State law prohibits governments from using public money to benefit private companies.

The potential sawmill site sits adjacent to a Tacoma Rail line. The municipally owned short-line railroad could handle finished products produced by the mill for regional and national distribution.

If Sierra Pacific decides to build the mill, the company would be its own builder. The privately held company, said the company spokesman, even builds its own sawmill machinery to equip its plants.

In addition to producing lumber for home buildings, the mill also would produce electricity for sale to power companies and for use in the plant. Mill wastes would be used to power the boilers that produce the power.

Pawlicki said the company would get its trees from Department of Natural Resources land and from privately held land in the area.

The company already operates three mills in Washington: at Burlington, Aberdeen and Centralia.

Sierra Pacific has no firm timeline to make its decision, said the company spokesman.

But the timber firm has strong hopes for the project, he said. “We think this site holds great promise,” he said.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663 John.gillie@ thenewstribune.com

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