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Local Lumber Grading Bill Introduced


March 06, 2023

(SitNews) -  Senator Jesse Bjorkman (R-Nikiski) introduced Senate Bill 87 last week to allow Alaskan sawmill operators who have been State certified to produce and grade dimensional lumber for use in some residential construction applications. Representative Jesse Sumner (R-Wasilla) expects to introduce companion legislation in the House on Friday. 

“Allowing for local lumber grading in Alaska will create economic opportunities for small businesses, provide an opportunity for Alaskans to purchase local products, and perhaps offer building materials at a lower cost than dimensional lumber from the lower 48,” said Senator Bjorkman. “It will also encourage higher value-added use of materials harvested from forest thinning and hazardous fuels reduction projects that would otherwise be piled and burned.”

Alaska is struggling to meet housing shortages across the state, made worse by the significant increase in the cost of construction materials and lag time due to supply chain issues. Currently, dimensional lumber used in construction must be graded and stamped by third-party grading agencies in order to meet lender requirements and building codes.

“Local lumber has been used successfully to build sturdy houses, boats, and even aircraft parts for generations already,” said Trevor Kauffman, Kenai Peninsula sawmill owner. “However, Alaska's relatively small forest products industry has not been able to bear the cost of Pacific Northwest lumber grading services, in most cases. To use an expression from the forest industry, the local use lumber program will "grease the skids" for skilled Alaskans to bring high quality wood products to market.”

Under SB 87, locally milled dimensional lumber that conforms to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) substitute equivalents for agency grading standards consistent with Number 2 and better, Stud and Number 3 grades could be sold directly to the end user or a contractor for use in residential structures with up to three units. The Department would provide free one-day hands-on classes, and sawmill operators that successfully complete the class would be certified to self-grade and sell dimensional lumber that they produce for five years.  

“This local use lumber program will enhance Alaska’s forest products industry and reduce the state’s heavy reliance on dimensional lumber from the Pacific Northwest and Canada,” said Jeremy Douse, Northern Region Forester, Alaska Division of Forestry and Fire Protection. “By utilizing local timber, we’re keeping Alaskan loggers at work, creating opportunities for Alaskan mill owners, resolving supply chain issues for Alaskan construction companies, and expanding the local forest industry that already exists in our great state.”

The greatest beneficiaries of this program are regions that are off the road system and have a timber supply. The ability to mill and use locally produced dimensional lumber can provide a substantial reduction in construction costs, helping meet significant housing needs in rural Alaska with quality inexpensive housing. The Kuskokwim Corporation, in particular, has been working with the Alaska Cold Climate Research Center on a heat-efficient kit house that uses wood products harvested in the region and would incorporate locally produced dimensional lumber if this legislation passes.  

SB 87 is a necessary first step, however, there will still be some restrictions that will require other in-state authorities to allow for the use of locally graded lumber in residential construction. Local governments that have a building code that covers residential structures would need to adopt code exemptions for self-graded lumber to allow its use. The Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC) has adopted the International Residential Code to govern financing, and the AHFC Board would need to adopt a code exemption in order to finance homes that are built with locally graded lumber. 

“The local lumber grading program will lower the barrier for entry to create new sawmills,” said Andrew Traxler, Big Lake sawmill owner. “These sawmills can serve as a catalyst to increase investment in forest management and help build the timber sector statewide.” 

“Growing Alaska’s timber sector will provide permanent, stable, family-wage jobs in rural communities and villages and strengthen and diversify local economies,” said Representative Sumner. “A larger timber sector, in turn, can provide the additionality needed for creating and selling forest carbon offset projects, adding further investment and revenues to the timber sector.” 

Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews

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Alaska Senate Majority

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