Montana company to take over Mary’s River Lumber mill

30 jobs expected by the end of December

By Corey Morris

Vidette Editor

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated on Dec. 15.]

Fox Lumber of Hamilton, Mont., has signed a lease for the Montesano property formerly and informally known as the “Mary’s River property” on State Route 107 at the south end of the city.

The announcement was made by Mayor Vini Samuel during the Dec. 13 city council meeting.

Samuel said the city expects the company to create some 30 jobs at the site.

“They have taken ownership of the Mary’s River property — but I guess we can’t call it Mary’s River anymore,” Samuel said. “They should be filling 30 jobs by the end of this month… I want to welcome them into our city.”

Despite the mayor’s enthusiasm, a company spokesman on Thursday, Dec. 15, said the sale of the structures and equipment was still pending.

“I think we’re a little bit early in the process to say a whole lot — there’s an agreement that’s in place, but the whole thing hasn’t closed yet,” said Quintin Apedaile, Fox Lumber director of operations. “I know there are rumors in town and a lot of things going on. We are coming to town for sure to work — I say for sure, but I mean as sure as I can be at this point without things being completely closed, but that should happen in the next few days.

“We’re getting close to closing it, but we’re not quite there yet.”

According to the company’s website, Fox lumber offers dimensional lumber, wholesale lumber, pallet and box stock, bed-frame stock, stress rated lumber, cut-offs and mill ends for craft and hobby companies, fence materials, landscape ties, old-growth beams and timbers, and finger jointed studs.

“We are a full service lumber manufacturing business committed to building long term, trusting relationships,” the company’s website states. “We believe in our customers and by producing over a million board foot a day of industrial grade lumber, we are building associations that survive and strengthen over the years. We believe in our employees, and in their commitment to a job well done…”

Montesano CFO Doug Streeter last week had said negotiations for the property and facility were “intricate” in that the property is owned by the city but the structures and equipment were owned by Mary’s River Lumber. Each stakeholder had been waiting for assurances from the other before moving forward. Apparently, those intricacies were overcome.

Mary’s River had more than 15 years remaining on its lease with the city when it closed its doors earlier this year.

Fox Lumber has signed a 5-year lease with the city, and a series of three 5-year leases are defined for when the first lease expires. The terms for those additional leases are exclusive to Fox Lumber.

“There’s some flexibility we didn’t have with the Mary’s River lease,” Streeter said on Dec. 14. “The lease terms are favorable, but it’s not quite the deal we had with Mary’s River.”

In the first two years, Fox Lumber will pay some $10,300 per year to the city for the lease. In years three to five, the company will pay $20,000 per year. The three renewal lease options will see the company paying $30,000 per year to the city. Additional taxes and other charges will cost the company about $1,000 per year.

That’s compared to Mary’s River which had payments based on CPI (consumer price index) increases, usually about $250 per year. In 2016, Mary’s River paid $10,180 in rent.

As described by sources close to the deal, Fox Lumber is purchasing the land and building of the former Mary’s River office, which was not owned by the city. And while Fox Lumber is purchasing the buildings and equipment for the finishing mill operations, the company likely will not purchase the saw mill. The saw mill could be disassembled and sold to another buyer.

Mary’s River Lumber closed its Montesano operations in March 2016 after 42 years of business, citing the limited availability of suitable cedar logs. When the mill closed, 38 people were laid off.

The new company already has brought on familiar local faces.

“It’s a great deal for Montesano, and it’s great to see people getting back to work,” Streeter said.

Terry Smith of Montesano was the former manager of Mary’s River Lumber for 15 years. He had been with the company for 30 years. While Smith was not laid off by Mary’s River — he was kept on to maintain the facility — he did have to lay off the crew.

Smith has been hired on as the Montesano mill manager for Fox Lumber.

“It’s outstanding,” Smith said. “It bothered me a lot when I had to let the guys go. Now I’ll be able to bring back some of those guys. Jobs on the Harbor aren’t very plentiful.”

Already, the company had allowed Smith to hire back one of the former Mary’s River employees, and another former employee will come on next week.

“I’ve worked for other companies where the mills have closed, and they were just gone — this one is going to have some life breath put back into it,” Smith said. “It’s up to me and the crew to make sure it survives.”

In 2012, the location suffered serious fire damage. At the time, Mary’s River Lumber had said it hoped to rebuild the following year. While the mill continued to operate, the company did not significantly rebuild the site.

In 2013, state and local funds were used to construct a flood wall to prevent erosion and flooding from the Wynoochee River which abuts the property.

The new owner, Fox Lumber, also has locations in Oregon, Wyoming and Canada.

Apedaile said the mill’s Montesano location is ideal for the company.

“We have a number of vendors in that region that deliver in well, and we haven’t been able to service that area in the past because we’ve had to ship in,” Apedaile said. “It’s really the location — it opens up new markets for us.”