Arauco North America plant near Grayling brings in first loads of wood as it readies to start production
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
The Arauco North America plant, located on 4 Mile Road just south of Grayling, marked a milestone earlier this month as it received its first loads of wood in anticipation to start manufacturing particle board at the mill later this year.
The mill received its first load an Friday, Sept. 7, and started taking regular deliveries on Monday, Sept. 17.
All suppliers of the wood are Forest Stewardship Council certified suppliers. The Forest Stewardship Council certification ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits.
Ninety percent of the wood will come from suppliers within 70 miles of Grayling in the northern Lower Peninsula, with some additional shipments coming in from the eastern Upper Peninsula.
“That’s all going to be certified wood as well,” said Randy Keen, the wood procurement manager for the Arauco North America plant in Grayling.
Seventy-five percent of the mix for the particleboard will be softwood including pine, spruce and fir, while 25 percent will be hardwood such as maple, ash and beech.
The $400 million Arauco North America plant is classified as a gatewood mill, meaning it will utilize wood that loggers and sawmills cannot use or would remain to rot on the forest floor.
“We’re buying the product directly from the loggers and the sawmills,” Keen said. “They’re the ones that are purchasing the stumpage from the state, private landowners and the federal government.”
The wood will be pulp wood and from the tops of trees that have been logged.
“Most of the value in a tree is in the saw logs,” Keen said. “We’re getting the last stick or two that you can’t make anything out of. It has to go to a paper product or a product like ours.”
In the past, the wood would have gone to Georgia Pacific in Gaylord, Sappi Paper in Muskegon and Menasha Corporation in Kalamazoo. Those plants have all been shut down. St. Mary’s Paper, which was located in Sault Ste. Marie, was also closed down.
“They bought quite a bit of wood out of Canada, but they also got quite a bit of softwood out of the northern Lower Peninsula,” Keen said. “There are condos where that mill used to stand now.”
Keen said the Arauco North America plant would use less wood than the four shuttered mills combined. He added the mills will take 500 loads of wood a week, when in full production at the end of 2019, including wood chips and sawdust that would have been waste wood in the past for sawmills.
“That’s a byproduct for them that a lot of time gets burned for energy,” Keen said. “We’re going to put it to a higher use.”
Keen said residents and visitors in the region would see no noticeable change in forestry practices due to the operation of mill. The plant will take in jack pine, which is cut to provide habitat for the Kirtland’s Warbler.
“They’re managing habitat for that bird and that bird requires expansive, even-age jack pine,” Keen said. “The only way to get that is to have a big fire or cut it.”
The plant, which will start operations near the end of 2018, will operate 24/7, 365 days a year. The only time it will be shut down is for maintenance of the equipment.
“When you’re running a mill like that, at some point you have to fix stuff, so there are planned maintenance days,” Keen said.
Company officials are still hiring people to work at the plant, which will include a workforce of 210 employees. Some of those jobs are in the skilled trades, while others will serve as particle board technicians. Those positions require potential employees to have some experience in the industry.
“Sometimes that’s hard to come by, because there is not a lot of manufacturing that goes on up here,” Keen said.
The employees must have a background with maintaining equipment.
“We want a well-rounded individual, someone who can operate a piece of machinery, but also has the skills to do some minor maintenance on it as well,” Keen said. “Our big thing is safety, so when we have to shut everything down, we go in and fix the problem and safely start everything back up.”