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Stoltze and partners to build cross-laminated timber plant

by CHRIS PETERSON
Hungry Horse News | September 6, 2020 12:00 AM

F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber, builder Pat Clark and other investors last week announced a joint venture to create a new mass timber production facility to build large format, cross-laminated timber panels in Columbia Falls.

New new company, called Stoltze Timber, eventually will be located across the road from the Stoltze plant west of Columbia Falls. It is a separate venture from the mill itself, noted Paul McKenzie, resource manager at F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber.

Cross-laminated wood is, in essence, glued together by a press under extremely high pressure, typically to create a beam or a panel.

SmartLam, another Columbia Falls firm, has been building a similar product for years, but this new venture targets the use of small trees that produce a smaller lam that is then glued together to create high-strength panels made of wood, suitable for homebuilding and other construction products.

SmartLam utilizes regular dimension lumber, like two-by-fours.

Clark said he’s been in talks with Stoltze leadership for several years on such a facility. A builder, he’s been working with cross-laminated timber products for decades, he said in a recent interview.

Initially, the company could manufacture products here from panels imported from Europe, he said. The Stoltze lumber mill will produce the lams as well.

“The timber industry has been struggling for years to find a viable matched end-use for our high-value wood coming out of Montana because we’ve been operating in a commodity-based market when in reality our Montana timber is far superior," McKenzie said. "With our new plant, we’ll be solving many problems across many interest groups as we’re helping to mitigate the overabundance of small-diameter timber in our forests that currently has limited marketable value, for one. Secondly, we’re offering a whole build system that is efficient to construct, sustainable for the resource, and fundamentally a better way to build. The effort of removing that small tree is now mirrored by a superior, high-value product with high demand.”

Small-diameter wood is anything less than 10 inches in diameter at breast height. Local woods, particularly those that have seen forest fires, are often choked with smaller trees.

“Our goal is to utilize as many local species as possible,” Clark said.

Douglas fir and larch are known for their strength and resiliency, but they’re also a slow-growing tree, taking about 70 to 80 years to grow large enough to be sawlog size.

McKenzie said the company will look to break ground sometime next spring or early summer. It’s still working on its capital plan.

The plant would be built in a phased approach.

How many people would be employed and the cost of the plant depends on the phasing and capital, both Clark and McKenzie noted, but McKenzie said it “wasn’t a huge investment.”

“We’re trying to do it in a smart and reasoned way,” he added.

Clark said the potential of cross-laminated timber is to penetrate between 5 and 15% of the construction market, most notably the brick-and-mortar buildings that use a lot of steel and concrete.

The idea is to “bring the value to Montana wood it deserves,” McKenzie noted.