“I am crying in my heart,” said resident and local activist Sheila Brown.
She was introducing herself to David Warren, managing director of the Vashon Forest Stewards (VFS). Brown was visiting the VSF mill last week to pick up free sawdust for her composting toilet, and she was referring to the mill’s pending closure on June 15.
Nonprofit VFS had been searching for a new mill location for over a year, but was unable to secure a new property. The current location at 18815 103rd Ave. SW has been home to the mill for the past 15 years.
“We have never had a complaint,” said Warren of the mill’s presence by neighboring residents and businesses.
The mill processes lumber for flooring, trim, paneling, live-edge slabs and other custom orders. The mill is unique in that it is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which promotes restoration, enhancement and maintenance of healthy native forest ecosystems. The VSF mill is the only mill in Washington that is both FSC-certified and processes FSC-certified lumber. Without the mill, lumber from out of state would have to be imported to meet both criteria — the closest being in Oregon.
VFS initially rented the 5-acre parcel from King County, and was only required to pay a rent of $100 per month. However, VFS invested over $50,000 in developing and upgrading the property, which included adding electricity and all the enhancements that operating a mill requires. The county swapped the 5 acres in a transaction with Frank Zellerhoff Jr., in an effort to acquire the historic Mukai Fruit Barreling Plant and its 2 acres. VFS has been leasing the property for half the $1200 a month rent (the other half is supplemented by the county) from Zellerhoff since 2016. VFS has not been reimbursed for its investment in making the property functional for the mill.
“It seems as if the county wasn’t giving the Forest Stewards much consideration,” Warren said.
Warren said he has received nine generous offers for relocation from island residents, but he felt the reality of having the mill on private residential land was not practical.
“Would you really want all this on your land?” he asked, referring to the mill’s building structure, storage containers, equipment and gravel-covered land.
David Kimmett, project manager for King County’s Natural Lands Program, stated that there is the possibility of an acquisition partnership. VFS would own the potential property and the Parks department would purchase a conservation easement that would strip the development rights of the property while still allowing for a small milling operation. County code allows for a small mill to operate on a minimum of 5 acres. However, the acquisition would also have to meet Land Conservation Initiative goals. The property would have to help conserve additional forest land adjacent to an existing county forest and natural lands property, and it would have to be located in a rural Vashon neighborhood that could accommodate a timber milling operation.
Warren remains optimistic.
“I think we will find the right property,” he said. In the meantime, he plans to continue consulting and focusing on other arms of VFS projects, which include low-impact forestry services and providing educational programs for both public and private land owners to help manage forests toward health.
He did however, note that the mill has three regular workers who will be losing their jobs.
The mill is selling shipping containers, its kiln, and its saw. There is free firewood and sawdust available to the public at the mill.