Washington needs CLT facilities


There is enormous promise in cross-laminated timber (CLT) for the Northwest timber industry. It seems like every week there is news of talll wood buildings being planned around the country, proposed legislation is in Congress to increase the use of CLT and more states are finding ways to build with cross-laminated timber.

One of the challenges, however, is that there are only two places in the U.S. that currently make CLT — SmartLam in Whitefish, Mont., and DR Johnson in Riddle, Ore. While the number of CLT projects in Washington continues to rise, there will be limitations until CLT is being manufactured in Washington with Washington wood.

This is the case with what is a very encouraging set of school projects in Washington, including new school buildings in Sequim, on the Olympic Peninsula, according to the Peninsula Daily News:

Earlier this year, state legislators appropriated $5.5 million for design and construction of 10 buildings in the Sequim, Seattle, Mount Vernon, Wapato and Toppenish public school districts as part of an effort to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade…A major component of the construction is that the legislature directed the state Department of Enterprise Services, which coordinates modular projects, to use cross-laminated timber (CLT) in the buildings.

…(State Rep. Steve Tharinger) said Sequim is part of the pilot project to see how the timber and process works for Washington state’s schools and other construction in the private sector.

(Brian Lewis, Sequim schools’ director of business services), said the cross-laminated panels will be constructed in a factory and shipped in assembled components or as a flat pack.

The nearest cross-laminated timber plant is either in Oregon or Penticton, B.C., and a plant being constructed in Colville will not be ready to support this project, he said.

Sequim Schools’ Superintendent Gary Neal told the School Board that he has told Tharinger he advocates using local timber because shipping costs for the wood from either Oregon or British Columbia could be “astronomical.”

Tharinger said using local lumber “in the long-term, is a real possibility.”

“As we develop the program and talk to the private sector, they really wanted us to work through the permitting and the codes,” he said.

“Once we show that’s doable we can develop the market,” he said.

The challenge of locally made CLT came up at a recent meeting in Shelton, Wash., between U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer and timber leaders.

Lumber mills could be built to produce CLT, which are healthier for the environment and ensure the lumber industry still has longevity.

​However, there is both little demand for the CLT because those in the building industry aren’t using it, and few facilities are producing it due to lack of demand, said Mark Emmerson, CFO and chairman of the board for Sierra Pacific.

Kilmer called the problem the “chicken or the egg challenge.”

“So you have no demand and no facilities,” he said. “What would it take to get you to create those facilities?”

There have been discussions of building CLT plants in Darrington (Northwest Washington), Forks (Olympic Peninsula) and Colville (Northeast Washington). And those discussions will continue.