PHOTO COURTESY OF WESTERLUND LOG HANDLERS
ASTORIA Once upon a time, Astoria was the largest log exporter on the West Coast. But boatloads of Douglas fir haven’t steamed for Asia from Northwest Oregon in 14 years. That’s expected to change this summer as Westerlund Log Handlers, based in Bremerton, Wash., sets up a log-exporting facility on Port of Astoria property.
Some major players in Astoria have lined up against a return to log exports, including Mayor Willis Van Dusen and the Bornstein Seafood Company. Tourism-dependent businesses also are warning about heavy truck traffic and noise. But the port has approved the deal to generate shipping revenues and jobs. Westerlund vice president and general manager Roger Nance expects to start exporting this summer.
Nance says the market for Oregon soft wood timber is strong in China and expected to get even better because of new tariffs on log exports proposed by Russia. He says timber companies are already exploiting that market through Washington ports such as Longview and Tacoma, but northwest Oregon has missed out on the bounty. Westerlund exports from Tacoma and Bremerton already, and Nance says moving into Oregon makes sense. “I don’t get the opposition,” Nance says. “We’re putting people back to work.”
The Westerlund operation will employ about 35 people once it’s running at full speed, but Nance says its impact will reach “up to 1,000 jobs” ranging from loggers and truckers to longshore workers. The facility could also prove a key supplier of wood scraps for the biomass co-generation planned for nearby Tongue Point.
Log export docks also impact mill jobs — but not for the better. Russia is slapping a tariff on log exports for the same reason Oregon moved away from them: They shift mill jobs overseas.
But the market for building materials is a lot stronger overseas, especially in China, than it is domestically. With the U.S. housing market still flooded with foreclosure specials, exporting is crucial. “If it weren’t for exports there wouldn’t be any timber being harvested,” says Nance.