Officials talking plans for lumber mill restart

Published 6:00 am Thursday, January 7, 2010

Rex Lumber Brookhaven LLC plans to hire around 100 workers andbegin producing lumber by the end of the year or early 2011, cityand county officials said Wednesday after touring the facility.

The company unveiled its plans to Lincoln County supervisors andBrookhaven aldermen Wednesday morning, asking for a list of taxbreaks and financial incentives to help ease startup at thesawmill. The employment of 100 workers would bring the facilityclose to levels enjoyed by the former Columbus Lumber Co. andreplace the jobs lost when that entity closed last year.

Rex Lumber Brookhaven General Manager Doug Boykin said, however,the company’s plans for production depend on “a lot of movingparts.” He said it was premature to establish start dates andemployment numbers.

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“We’re still in communication and working toward something goodfor everybody,” Boykin said. “Everything we’re working for shouldbe great for the community, and it should be a long term positivefor this part of the state.”

Regardless of the finality of Rex Lumber’s plans, city andcounty officials have agreed to work hand-in-hand to provide theincentives necessary to help jumpstart production at the65-year-old sawmill.

“We’re not going to reinvent the wheel for them, but we’re suregoing to make everything available to them that would be availableto anybody who comes to Brookhaven,” said Brookhaven Mayor LesBumgarner.

Bumgarner said Rex Lumber is seeking several new industry taxbreaks, assistance with bond issues and help securing grants tostrengthen roads leading into the yard. In return, the companyplans to invest “several million” dollars to modernize and preparethe sawmill for increased production, he said.

The biggest issue the company needs help with is access to largevolumes of water – the same issue aldermen are already working onfor Great Southern Wood Preserving, Inc., which purchased portionsof the lumberyard from Rex Lumber and plans to start a smalleroperation in three weeks.

Both companies are requesting a water well to operate, but cityordinances prevent industries from drilling into the city’saquifer. Alderman can’t simply overturn the ordinance because itwould set a precedent for other industries to claim rights to theirown wells, which could be a problem for the city’s water supply inthe future.

Bumgarner said the two leading solutions to the ordeal are toallow a pair of abandoned wells on the property to be grandfatheredinto the deal or to connect the companies to city water and createnew rates for large usage. The rates would then apply to anyindustry that uses a comparable amount.

“They want a fixed cost they can live with,” he said. “I reallythink the problem is going to be solved. It has to be solved in asatisfactory manner for them and for us, or the deal’s not going togo forward.”

Rex Lumber officials are expected to make a full presentation oftheir plans to the public at city and county board meetings in twoweeks.

District Three Supervisor Nolan Williamson said the localdelegation was “hyped up” about Rex Lumber’s plans, which he saidcalled for the production of “several million more” board feet oflumber per year than was produced by Columbus Lumber Co. He hopesthe planned increase in production will be enough to bring back theeconomic activity lost in several related industries when ColumbusLumber closed last September after months of falling revenue.

“People don’t realize – when Columbus Lumber went down, youthink, ‘There it is.’ But out here in District Three … those logtrucks come through, they stop and buy a coke, a plate lunch, fuel- and they don’t do that anymore,” Williamson said. “It’s not onlyshutting down in Brookhaven. It’s astounding what else it affectswhen something like that shuts down.”