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County buys finger-joint plant: Move intended to keep infrastructure in community

by Brad FuquaWestern News
| May 28, 2009 12:00 AM

Lincoln County purchased a finger-joint plant on Wednesday. But don’t expect Tony Berget or Marianne Roose to be running ripsaws or grading lumber inside the Kootenai Business Park facility.

The board of commissioners approved $127,000 for the purchase from Stimson Lumber Co., as a guarantee that the plant remains intact in Libby. The three commissioners along with Paul Rumelhart of the Kootenai River Development Council believe the housing market will return in the coming months. And when it does, a finger-joint plant that was once very profitable will be ready to roll for any interested parties.

“We view it as a relatively cheap investment,” commissioner John Konzen said. “It’s something very important to us as commissioners (retaining and creating jobs). The county may sit on it for a year, we may sit on it for three months.”

Stimson closed its Libby finger-joint plant in mid-August with layoff notices to 13 remaining employees. At the height of the operation, Stimson employed 25 to 35 in Libby on two shifts. All of the infrastructure from the business venture remains.

“It’s not our intent to run a finger-jointer,” Berget said. “In my opinion, we wouldn’t be very good at that. It’s to save the jobs.”

Finger joints are short pieces of lumber that are joined end to end.

Konzen and Rumelhart believe there is potential for someone to come in.

“There is some interest floating around, some who have contacted Paul, some who have contacted me,” Konzen said. “We want to preserve that facility as a job-ready capable plant that we can then sell to a private entity.”

Stimson indicated it was interested in having the first right of refusal as part of the deal – a right that would remain for three years.

“Our caveat is that’s fine, but you (new owners) must open it immediately upon purchasing and can’t let it sit there like now,” Konzen said. “Otherwise, somebody will buy it and sit on it again.”

Rumelhart said there had been talk of selling off pieces of the plant to other facilities.

The idea evolved out of a trip to a small diameter conference in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. It was there that rumors circulated about Stimson’s desire to auction off its finger-joint plant components.

A Stimson executive that handles inland operations confirmed those intentions.

“That kind of conjured up our thought process,” Konzen said, adding that the county was thinking, “we don’t want to lose any more infrastructure in this community.”

Stimson was open to negotiations and estimated the plant’s worth at $300,000 to $500,000. Rumelhart sent an initial counteroffer that was rejected but a second proposal of $127,000 was accepted.

“We’re not investing more money into it, we’re just preserving the way it is,” said Roose, who suggested that the $127,000 for the purchase be taken out of the county’s economic development fund.

Konzen indicated there was very little risk involved with the commissioners’ decision.

“We feel to recover county expenses in this would be very easy,” Konzen said. “We’re not putting anyone in jeopardy here.”