Good Earth relocates saw mill from Williams to Bellemont with purchase of warehouse
WILLIAMS, Ariz. - In a surprise move, Good Earth Power AZ, LLC., the company holding the nation’s largest stewardship contract for the U.S. Forest Service’s Four-Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI), has decided to relocate its new saw mill from Williams to Bellemont, Arizona.
The company, who is contracted to treat 300,000 acres per year of northern Arizona forests, held a ground breaking in Williams for the new Windfall Sawmill in October 2019. However, the company has changed directions with the acquisition of a 425,000-square-foot warehouse in Bellemont, according to Jason Rosamond, chairman and founder of Good Earth and NewLife Forest Products.
“We could never have built this building on the Williams property,” Rosamond said. “This has water, air, power, gas, high ceilings, overhead cranes — everything you could possibly imagine.”
Although the company had been moving to develop a mill site at Garland Prairie, Rosamond said the company was struggling to adequately prepare the Williams site for the new mill.
“The ground over there is just not suitable,” Rosamond said. “We would have to have blown up an entire mountain and moved it over to rock the entire site — it’s just not feasible.”
The recently acquired Bellemont warehouse was previously owned by Essity or SCA, a paper products plant that closed in the fall of 2018. The plant produced raw paper that was made into tissues, paper towels and toilet paper.
Good Earth was awarded the 4FRI Phase One Contract to thin approximately 300,000 acres over the course of 10 years. However, the company has only been able to thin a fraction of the 50,000 acres per year that were originally planned.
Forest industry experts say the forest biomass disposition has been the stumbling block for economic vitality in northern Arizona. Good Earth has lost nearly $50 million over a three-year period in forest thinning efforts, according to Rosamond.
With the development of the new mill, Rosamond hopes to change that.
“We’re lucky because we have our backers — they believe in the vision, they believe it can transform the industry here in Arizona,” Rosamond said. “You’ve seen the wildfires across the West. We think this is a model that other people can deploy and we can also deploy in other places — so they’ve been willing to stand beside us every step of the way.”
Good Earth, or NewLife Forest Products, is owned by FEC Logging USA Holdings, and is backed by Lateral Investment Management, a San Mateo, California-based private credit and growth equity firm.
The new building in Bellemont will not only house a saw mill operation, but will include an engineered wood products plant, Rosamond said.
“We are going to actually create specialty products out of all the wood,” he said. “One of the challenges in Arizona is low-grade fiber. We are going to make engineered wood products, which will allow us to take some of that lower grade fiber and create higher value products. That’s the only way this contract can actually make money.”
The massive plant is divided into three sections. The two larger sections will house the sawmill, a planer mill and the kiln. The third section will house the engineered wood products plant.
“We’re trying to extract as much value out of the fiber as possible given that its low grade,” Rosamond said. “All the equipment will be designed to take smaller logs and convert them into products that can actually make money and offset the cash drag from having to deal with all the biomass.”
The location of the mill will also alleviate the expense of transportation.
“The mill is literally in the heart of where we are harvesting and so the vast majority of our acres are within 25 miles of here,” he said. “Historically we had to send wood 160 miles away to the Heber facility.”
The location of the mill will not only shorten haul distance, but allow the company to utilize the BNSF rail line.
“We have approval from BNSF to put in a rail spur, so we will be able to ship our product anywhere we want on the BNSF mainline,” Rosamond said. “That’s really exciting.”
Although the plant doesn’t specifically address the biomass bottleneck, Rosamond said they are hopeful that at least some of the biomass can be used to power the kiln, and the engineered wood products can offset the loss of transporting the biomass off site.
“Looking at our business model, we realized we had to take the lower grade fiber to make higher end products that will offset the cost of removing all the slash from the forest,” he said.
Although Good Earth only recently acquired the building, Rosamond believes the sawmill can be fully operational by early spring 2021. The mill and plant equipment are arriving daily with the hopes of manufacturing engineered wood products right away.
“Over the next nine months we will continue to expand lines in here so by September or October of next year everything will be fully operational across the board,” he said.
In addition to the new facility, Good Earth has also made operational changes to partner with local industry professionals. These partners include TriStar Logging and Novo Star Wood Productions, according to a release by the company.
“Arizona’s loggers have a rich history of taking care of our forest and we are united in working together with NewLife to get the job done,” said Allen Reidhead of Tri-Star Logging. “We believe our harvesting experience and facilities on the east side of the forest really complement NewLife’s growing capabilities in manufacturing and remanufacturing on the west side.”
NewLife Forest Products plans to employ 200 mill workers through local recruitment efforts, Rosamond said.
Once the mill is fully operational, NewLife projects producing more than 160 million board feet per year.
“This is the most exciting and important project I have been involved with in my 40-year career in the forest products industry,” said NewLife Forest Products new CEO Ted Dergousoff. “This facility allow us to leapfrog in our scale as a company and as a local industry.”
Rosamond said despite the relocation of the saw mill from Williams to Bellemont, Good Earth still has plans for the Garland Prairie site. He said he couldn't provide exact details, but the location will house another facility designed for manufacturing a specialty product using the smaller fiber wood.