Hotchkiss firm wins $8.66 million forest contract

A Hotchkiss business has won an $8.66 million contract to help remove insect-infested and diseased trees from the White River National Forest, and has arranged to use cleared wood to create electricity in Gypsum.

The U.S. Forest Service today announced the contract with West Range Reclamation, and a second, $4.75 million contract with Confluence Energy of Kremmling to do work on the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest in Colorado and Wyoming.

The two, 10-year stewardship contracts are designed to deal with widespread bark beetle infestation in the forests. They’ll treat a minimum of 20,000 acres in total, and add to the $100 million the Forest Service already has spent dealing with the infestation in its Rocky Mountain Region since 2010.

The Forest Service estimates the outbreak has affected more than 1.7 million acres of lodgepole and ponderosa pine forests on the Medicine Bow-Routt and White River forests, killing 70 to 80 percent of mature trees to date. That poses a threat of wildfire, which also could degrade municipal watersheds.

West Range has partnered with Eagle Valley Clean Energy for the use of dead and small-diameter trees, also known as woody biomass. Eagle Valley Clean Energy is planning an 11.5-megawatt, biomass-fueled plant in Gypsum. The plant will supply electricity to Holy Cross Energy, which serves homes from Parachute to Vail and Glenwood Springs to Aspen, and heat from the plant will be used by the adjacent American Gypsum wallboard plant.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service announced a $40 million loan guarantee to help finance the plant.

“The continued stability of the 10-year project will allow West Range to provide well-paying, steady, year-round work for our current employees and the ability to hire more skilled operators,” Pam Motley of West Range Reclamation said in the Forest Service release. “We also intend to do our part to help strengthen local economies by purchasing products and services such as fuel, food, housing, tools, parts, supplies, rentals and repair services from local businesses.”

Eagle Valley Clean Energy estimates its plant will further support 41 permanent jobs and 107 construction jobs.

Confluence Energy manufactures wood pellets. After removing trees, it will pile or scatter noncommercial debris, while paying for trees with commercial value for pellets, lumber or other uses to offset costs to the government for other work under its contract.

Today’s contract announcements were praised by U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, Colorado Democrats who have helped push legislatively for funding for such projects.


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