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Wood Could Be New Gold in District 2

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By John Hall

Wood waste may one day soon provide economic benefits to residents of the West Point-Wilseyville-Rail Road Flat area.

Committees of Calaveras Healthy Impact Products Solutions (CHIPS) are looking into the feasibility of using wood waste, including waste lumber products left at the Wilseyville solid waste transfer station, debris left behind from timber harvesting on public and private lands, and salvage from forest fuel-load reduction programs, in ways that could provide jobs, reduce energy costs and improve safety for upcountry residents.

CHIPS is a coalition of organizations and individuals that includes District 2 Supervisor Steve Wilensky, Calaveras County Mountain Miwuk Tribal Council, Sierra Pacific Industries, federal Bureau of Land Management, Calaveras Band of MiWuk, Mother Lode Job Training, Calaveras Foothills Fire Safe Council, Foothill Conservancy and Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign.

“I think it is good to have a public-private partnership. We have the work force, we have the resources and a lot of the upfront costs may be offset by grant funding,” Wilensky said.

The committees currently are working on feasibility studies for four options that include mulch and chips, fence posts, wood pellet production, and electricity generation.

“We have a lot of under-employed forest workers and the potential for unlimited forest thinning for about a 100 years,” Wilensky said. “We have high unemployment, high displaced workers, high fire hazard.”

Members of the group are looking into possibly making an agreement with Calaveras County for the use of county-owned equipment to grind wood waste for sale to an electrical co-generation plant near Sonora or to produce mulch for yards and gardens. Eventually, a high-end product, such as packaged, colored wood chips might be developed and marketed for decorative use in yards.

Another option could be producing posts from the numerous small diameter cedar trees that might be removed by forest thinning in fuel-load reduction programs, Wilensky said.

“Cedar posts last quite a while, without chemical treatment,” he noted.

Looking forward to a time when restrictions on burning firewood, such as those already in effect in Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia, are put in place, another committee is looking into the viability of developing a pelletizing plant to produce wood stove pellets.

Another opportunity may be construction of a co-generation plant to use forest waste to generate electricity.

“This is my personal favorite,” Wilensky said. “The generation of electricity is best for the long-term health of West Point.”

Power generation could help the local economy a couple ways, he said. In addition to, or possibly instead of, selling the generated power to PG&E, the electricity might be sold directly to area residents at rates lower than those available from the utility company. The savings on energy costs would be a direct economic benefit to customers and jobs created to operate and fuel the co-generation plant would be an economic benefit to the entire community.

Increased safety for area residents could also result from the use of local wood wastes.

“I look at West Point as a place between two river canyons with a fire hazard capacity for a disaster,” Wilensky said. “The options being looked at can restore forest health and safety while providing an economic benefit to West Point´s residents.”

Reprinted with permission from Calaveras Enterprise

Contact at John Hall