Mill future in limbo as Hanel sold

Hanel Lumber Company has been sold, but the new owner is not yet ready to reveal what the future holds for the historic mill.

"We are evaluating options for the mill, however, at this time we have no immediate plans," said Brad Wilkins, president and part-owner of High Cascade International Corp.

The Home Valley, Wash., veneer plant is located less than 20 miles downriver from Hood River, and was the sole bidder in a Seattle federal court for the Hood River holdings of the bankrupt Quality Veneer and Lumber.

The company offered just $1 more than the $2.5 million minimum price and was awarded the property on July 27.

When the deal closes in mid-August, High Cascade will add the Odell mill to its inventory that also includes the Wilkins, Kaiser and Olson (WKO), Inc., lumber company in Carson, Wash., and the former Stevenson Co-Ply.

Although High Cascade has not yet unveiled future plans for Hanel, local officials are optimistic that the recent sale of six separate county timber sales to WKO is a good omen.

During June and July, the company recently paid about $1.8 million for an estimated 4.6 million board feet of lumber and is expected to begin harvest on those parcels in the near future.

"We are committed to working with the new buyer to come up with an arrangement that will make the mill more economically viable for them," said John Arens, chair of the Hood River County Commission.

He said the county is willing to negotiate on several options that will increase the efficiency of the mill and put its 130 laid-off employees back to work.

These include contracting with WKO to custom cut at least some of the county's 9.5 million board feet of timber and seeking out state and federal funding to set up high-tech training programs for the local labor market.

The sale brings to near-closure a 10-month saga of economic uncertainy at the historic lumber operation.

On Sept. 25, 2000, the operations at Hanel were shut down abruptly and the personnel left without employment.

Four days later QVL, a firm based in Seattle, filed for bankruptcy, just two years after purchasing the Odell plant during another bankruptcy action involving Hood Lumber Company.

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