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Peck announces plans for fiberboard factory

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | May 25, 2021 7:00 AM

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Lincoln County Commissioner Mark Peck (D-1) announces plans to build a medium-density fiberboard plant on May 21.

County Commissioner Mark Peck (D-1) announced plans to establish a medium-density fiberboard factory (MDF) near Libby that could employ upwards of 150 people.

While touring the Lincoln County Port Authority with Gov. Greg Gianforte on May 21, Peck said efforts have been underway for a year to restore ownership of a large building on the property, commonly known as the Stinger building, to house the plant.

Peck said a company also had expressed interest in establishing a small diameter mill, but he could not offer specifics.

To outfit the MDF factory, county officials are planning to bring in equipment from a plant in Dubuque, Iowa. Peck said the county has contracted an engineering firm to inspect the machinery and will be relying on a private-public partnership to bring the equipment to Lincoln County.

He anticipated the plant would employ roughly 40 workers per shift. Factoring in transportation and supporting work, MDF operations could create between 150 and 200 jobs. Peck said the plant could be running as soon as next year.

Officials are working with MoFi, a nonprofit, non-bank lender, on market tax credits. Peck said the facility would be worth more than $40 million.

“It’s a huge opportunity for everybody,” said Peck.

Earlier this month, Peck announced that he would be stepping down as commissioner to take on a role as a share stewardship coordinator with the port authority.

At the time, a press release from the state Department of Natural Resources Conservation said Peck would “oversee the potential development of wood products manufacturing capacity at the port authority to meet forest restoration goals” but did not offer specifics.

MDF is made by breaking wood residuals into fibers, combining the fibers with wax and resin and forming the mixture into panels using heat and pressure. Among other products, panels can be used to produce garage doors and door skins.

Along with providing jobs, the MDF factory will provide an outlet for wood produced by local fuel reduction forestry projects. County, state and federal officials have stressed the need for such projects, especially after the DNRC cited Lincoln County as having the most acres of land at risk of wildfire and forest degradation out of any county in the state.

“Traditionally, you’ve got a big sawmill sitting there and you’re trying to get the forest to meet the needs of the mill,” said Peck. “We’ve got an opportunity here to change that paradigm where we’re putting wood products in here at a manufacturing capacity that meets the needs of the forest.”

During the first stop of the May 21 tour at the Good Neighbor Authority Ski Dale project, Peck pointed to a towering slash pile and noted that a local processing plant could have made use of roughly half of the leftover material.

Bruce Vincent of Montana-based Environomics said wood processing plants could be a boon for the environment. Rather than burning the byproducts of forestry projects, factories would help sequester carbon contained in the wood.

“We can either sequester [carbon] in our lungs or in boards or in MDF,” he said. “We have an area with compromised lungs. The issue of where we’re going to sequester that carbon becomes increasingly important.”

Gianforte said there were several tools his office could use to support the project, including federal funding through the American Rescue Plan Act.

“This is the sort of project we’d like to support,” the governor said.