A resurgence in the timber industry in Montezuma County has opened up opportunity for new spinoff businesses and has raised awareness of fire safety practices for sawmill waste products.
There are eight sawmill operations in Montezuma County, and increasing timber sales on the San Juan National Forest are boosting their supply.
The local mills create a variety of products, including wood paneling, plywood veneer, excelsior, flooring, construction lumber, mine cribbing and furniture. The leftover sawdust and slash have a market as well.
During a presentation to the Montezuma County Commissioners, local residents Mara Baxstrom, Luke Baxstrom and Rachel Comisky announced that they and two other people have formed a partnership to start a pellet mill in the county that would utilize wood waste such as sawdust from regional mills.
“There is a need to get rid of the waste at the mills to mitigate fire hazards,” said Mara Baxstrom. “A pellet mill will bring more money into the county and add jobs.”
The stationary mill would create wood pellets used in pellet stoves and for other purposes.
Once a location is secured, the business owners expect to start out processing 6 tons per hour of mill waste into marketable pellets, and expand production from there based on supply.
A potential location for the pellet mill is next door to the IronWood mill, southwest of Dolores.
Mara Baxstrom said the market for stove pellets has increased since the shutdown of regional coal mines relied on for heat by many households in the Southwest and Navajo Nation.
It is critically important for mills to reduce and safely manage waste, said Montezuma County Emergency Manager Jim Spratlen, and a pellet mill is a good solution.
After the Aspen Wall Wood slash pile fire in December, which continues to smolder, area mills were contacted to evaluate and mitigate mill waste hazards, he said.
Every mill has a fire emergency response plan, which were reviewed and updated. Mill fire prevention includes use of temperature probes to monitor sawdust piles, which can spontaneously combust from heat buildup.
“Once the temperatures reach a certain point, the piles are broken up and divided up into smaller piles,” Spratlen said.
Wood waste piles should not be more than 25 feet high, 250 feet long, he said. Sawmills work with local fire districts on fire mitigation and safety plans.
Besides for use in pellet stoves, wood mill waste finds markets as animal bedding, firewood, mulch, livestock feed additives and horse track surfaces.