Timber sale gets no takers


By JOHN MONGLE, Staff Writer August 31, 2004

The forest service received no bids last week for the Joel Branch timber sale near Bark Camp Lake on High Knob. "We're very disappointed," says Pat Eagan, contract officer for the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. "We don't know why at this point - we really don't have any idea."

This was the second time the 165-acre tract had been offered for bids and the second time there were no takers.

On both occasions, potential bidders were mailed material by the Clinch Coalition warning that any logging operation on the site would likely be interrupted by protests.

Before the bid deadline, George Washington and Jefferson National Forest Supervisor Bill Damon wrote a letter to newspapers expressing shock at what he called the coalition's attempts to threaten and intimidate potential bidders.

Now, forest service officials will not speculate on whether the environmentalists' campaign influenced the outcome.

Neither would Clinch Coalition President Detta Davis of Coeburn claim victory for any effect the coalition's letter might have had in there being no takers for the job.

Davis said she is not sure the letter had an influence. "I'm not sure that it did," she says. "I'm not sure if that's the case or if they gave it second thoughts. The ranger said they would lower the bidding price."

Doug Jones, Clinch District ranger, said earlier that if no bids were taken, the tract would be reappraised and offered at a lower rate.

Jones speculates the appraisal of the tract may have been off, but can offer no specific reasons nobody bid.

"We nose around on these things," he says, "and we thought there was some interest."

Two timber industry representatives seem certain that it was not correspondence from environmental groups that chased off potential bidders.

"I do not think that the letter would deter anyone in this area," says Bill Anderson of Gilbert NS Lumber Inc., of Duffield. "The letter would be a minor part."

Anderson declines comment on why his company chooses to bid or pass on any sale, including this one, but he says, "On any sale there are a number of factors that can increase or decrease your cost."

He points out that few loggers in the region have the ability to do tower skidding or cable logging as called for in the bid proposal.

Another factor, according to Anderson, is a problem with getting workers since the recent increase in coal-related employment. He also pointed to the fact that expenses for everything from fuel to workers compensation to insurance have gone up in the last six months.

Anderson says he knows and likes several members of the coalition, but he says they are "a little misinformed on timber practices."

Anderson says the forest service has done a very good job of managing the timber on High Knob and that it is "very high quality." But, he says that due to the age of the stand some of it must be harvested to protect the health of the forest.

Tom Merriman of Georgia Pacific said potential problems are "not really an issue on whether to bid a job. Everybody in the industry was well aware of it - everybody was aware there would be protests - if not trouble."

For Georgia Pacific's Mt. Hope, WVa., operation, the reason for not bidding was simple - the mill that handles hardwoods from this region is being sold.

"We're not buying any hardwoods in that area right now," Merriman said.

The cable operation requirement would have been an obstacle for the Joel Branch sale as well, according to Merriman.

Jones thinks that the uncertainty of being able to complete the project may have deterred bidders in the original sale offer. The Clinch Coalition had a federal lawsuit pending at the time to block the sale.

That suit, aimed at preventing logging on Joel Branch and other tracts totaling some 700 acres on High Knob, was dismissed earlier this year by U.S. District Court Judge Glen Williams. The time for appeal of the decision had run by the time bid packages went out earlier this month.

Eagan says the district office will be re-evaluating the sale in the coming weeks to try to determine why the sale was not successful and develop a new plan for the sale.

"We're just thankful the loggers appreciate it (High Knob) as much as we do," says Davis.

She says Clinch Coalition will "do as much as we can peacefully" to prevent logging in the area, and emphasizes, "We will not do anything violent on our part." But, she says that she cannot speak for other groups.

The Clinch Coalition partnered with Earth First! for an "action camp" at Little Stony Falls near Bark Camp earlier this summer in which tree sitting techniques and other anti-logging protest measures were taught.

Although Davis says no group, including Earth First! or Greenpeace, has said they will resort to violence, she says, the coalition "is not responsible if they want to do that."

She says some groups will respect the local group's decision on the level of protest and some don't. "Sometimes they will respect it," she says.

©Coalfield.com 2004

Informant: Deane T. Rimerman


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