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Harrisville Dry Kiln closing; Lewis officials seeking buyer

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HARRISVILLE — The Harrisville Dry Kiln plant will be shut down at the end of this month, but Lewis County officials said they hope to help find a buyer before any equipment is removed.

Bestway Enterprises Inc., the Cortland lumber supplier that operates the Washington Street plant as HDK Wood Products, is working to close the mill, which employs nearly 30 people, by July 31, according to company spokesman Andrew T. Porter.

The move, which was decided upon and announced to employees last week, is a “strictly financial decision” made after a lengthy process of reviewing figures both internally and through an outside consultant, he said.

“A lot of thought went into this,” Mr. Porter said.

The dry kiln operation is outside the company’s “normal purview” of lumber treating and building products, and the relatively poor economy, in general, had an impact on the decision, he said.

“We’re going to do our very best to integrate ourselves into the equation to find a buyer for the place,” Legislator Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville, said at a special legislative session Monday.

The mill, which Mr. Hathway said has employed as many as 38 people, purchases lumber, steam-dries it in the kilns, runs it through a planer and sells it to manufacturers for use in a variety of products, including door frames and utility poles.

Mr. Porter said the closure is not expected to affect Bestway’s pressure-treating facility outside Gouverneur, which, according to the company website, employs 10 full-time people and several seasonal employees.

The economic impact of the closure would be “substantial for a little place like Harrisville,” Mr. Hathway said, adding he hopes the plant can be sold soon before it is scrapped like the Newton Falls Fine Paper mill.

The Harrisville legislator, a member of the Economic Development Committee, said he has spoken with one individual and heard of another who apparently are interested in buying the plant, and both would appear to have the expertise and financial resources to make it work.

Mr. Porter said his company is actively trying to sell the facility and would welcome any assistance in that effort from local officials.

“It is our sincere hope to sell it as is,” he said.

Bestway officials have some idea of how long they would continue leasing the plant before removing the equipment, but any timetable would be determined by many factors, including whether any serious offers come up, Mr. Porter said.

Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, is working to set up a meeting with representatives of the Cortland company, and officials from the county and the Lewis County Industrial Development Agency, which owns the dry kiln property and leases it to Bestway, have been invited to participate, Mr. Hathway said.

“Eric is going to be, at our encouragement, spending a lot of time on this,” he said, referring to county Economic Development Director Eric J. Virkler.

Legislator Charles R. Fanning, R-Copenhagen, also a member of the Economic Development Committee, said that at least some of the mill’s fiscal troubles stem from the expense of powering the kilns with fuel oil.

“We have offered to get grants to change it over to wood-fired dry kilns, but it hasn’t gone anywhere,” he said.

A company also approached Bestway with a compressed natural gas system projected to save $300,000 to $500,000 in annual energy costs, but “nothing went anywhere with that, either,” said Legislator Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham, president of the Lewis County IDA board.

Mr. Fanning said he is concerned not only with the direct job loss, but with the loss of another market for area loggers.

Paragon Laminated Wood Products, Lakeville, New Brunswick, started up the dry kiln plant in October 1998, and Bestway took over its operation in August 1999. A sawmill was added in 2006.

Plant neighbors Joel and Sandy Chambers in August 2011 filed a state Supreme Court lawsuit against HDK and the IDA claiming the couple suffers noise and vibration from the sawmill, destroying peaceful enjoyment of the property off Maple Avenue and damaging the home. The suit is still pending.

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