June 16, 2019

Despite all the trees in Maine, finding enough wood is not an easy job

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LIVERMORE FALLS — Ron Lovaglio buys wood. Lots of wood — not by the cord, but by the ton. About 2.1 million tons a year.

Lovaglio, manager of logging and fiber supply for the International Paper Co., runs the wood-procurement organization that purchases wood for just one customer: IP’s Androscoggin mill in Jay.

Like its competition in the paper industry, the Androscoggin mill feeds on wood, more wood than the typical Mainer can imagine. Monday through Friday, 52 weeks a year, 275 equivalent truckloads of pulp wood and chips roll into the mill yard from loading points in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Brunswick.

According to Lovaglio, the Androscoggin mill needs so much wood “simply because it’s the largest pulp and paper mill in the Northeast and the Lake States,” including Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and New York. Lovaglio described the mill as almost three in one, using digesters to produce hardwood and softwood krafts and grinders to produce groundwood.

As final products, the Androscoggin mill makes lightweight coated (LWC) paper for various publications (including Avon catalogs), free sheet paper (so-called because it lacks a groundwood coating), and market pulp.

To produce these various products, the mill purchases wood from about 400 contractors (IP employs no harvesting crews of its own) primarily harvesting on privately owned land. Usable tree species include most hardwoods, spruce, fir, pine, larch, and hemlock. Lovaglio estimated that 25 percent of the mill’s wood comes from IP partnership land.

He relies on personnel assigned to procurement centers in Livermore Falls, Bangor, and Freedom, N.H., to find the wood needed by the Androscoggin mill. Androscoggin Logging and Fiber Supply buys 50 percent of its wood through the Livermore Falls center, 40 percent through Bangor, and 10 percent through the New Hampshire facility.

Most wood is shipped to the mill from four woodyards: a combination rail-and-truck operation in Mattawamkeag and truck-only facilities in Dover-Foxcroft, Cherryfield, and Freedom, N.H. About 80 percent of the wood moving through Mattawamkeag ships by rail; companywide, everything else moves by contracted truck, except for IP-owned trucks that make approximately 14 daily trips to the Androscoggin mill.

Those trucks come into Maine from Freedom, N.H., where IP keeps 10 tractors and 20 trailers. The company also operates a maintenance center there.

According to Lovaglio, most wood delivered to Jay arrives as 8-foot pulp wood. He said that about 20 percent of the wood arrived as chips to be made into paper.

The wood purchased by Androscoggin Logging and Fiber Supply creates an economic impact that extends far beyond Jay. “Our purchased wood comes from generally small operations, not from big companies like International Paper,” Lovaglio said.

“The wood payments from the mill, the money that we pay to our suppliers, comes to more than $1 million a week,” he said, “and most of that goes into Maine’s economy, to people who live everywhere from Ashland to Eustis to Sanford.”

The company purchases wood only by contract, relying on meetings with some personnel from the Androscoggin mill to accurately forecast wood-fiber requirements. Lovaglio and the 41 people working for him then locate the appropriate tree species and wood quantities that the mill will need.

“A supplier says `I have so much volume available to you at a certain price,’ and we negotiate from there,” Lovaglio said. Before any contractor successfully bids a particular contract, IP insists that the firm prove that its employees are covered by Worker’s Compensation: no proof, no contract.

Lovaglio, who serves as the chairman of the Maine Board of Licensing for Professional Foresters, praised his employees and the 400-odd contractors for their help in keeping the gigantic Androscoggin mill supplied with wood. He stressed the effort required to balance the cyclical supply situation, where the mill would increase its wood inventory, then cut off deliveries until the inventory declined.

“The Androscoggin mill has become the preferred market for many suppliers,” Lovaglio said.

Lovaglio pointed out that “while we’ve been moving all this wood, with the cranes and trucks and other equipment that we operate, we have the best safety record for any operation of comparable size.”

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