Biomass plant’s closure takes toll on logging industry

Published: Aug. 17, 2023 at 4:52 PM EDT
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THERESA, New York (WWNY) - The ripple effect is real, says loggers after the biomass plant on Fort Drum closed this past spring.

“Our chippers have been sitting idle. Wood at the mills has been at full. Getting rid of the material has been awful,” said Kirk Kleiboer, the foreman at K&E Logging.

The closing of the ReEnergy BioMass on Fort Drum is putting a cut into business.

“We’ve lost half of our bottom line. It’s double our cost. Parts and stuff are still the same price. Fuel has gone up,” said Kleiboer.

The facility closed because it lost possible economic incentives due to New York state no longer recognizing biomass as a source of renewable energy. The plant at one time provided 100 percent of power on the post.

John Bartow, executive director of Empire State Forest Products Association, a non-profit organization that advocates for the logging industry in New York state. says two dozen trucking contracts and the jobs associated with those contracts have been lost.

“We lost a dozen logging operations so those people have had to go find work elsewhere. We saw a lot of equipment get turned in and auctioned off. That’s a loss of significant jobs,” he said.

Loggers say when the biomass plant was open, they were able to keep the forest floor clear of scraps and debris. Now, the complete opposite is occurring.

“All the tree waste that normally we would chip and send to the biomass plant now has to be cut down smaller and brought back to the woods. We’re bringing about roughly 500 tons every two weeks back to the woods,” said Kleiboer.

He says the combination of fuel costs and the lack of need for transport also forced him to let one of his employees go.

“With guys, we had to take a guy away. It’s just there’s no work for him,” he said.

Since ReEnergy’s closing, Fort Drum is getting its electricity from the power grid. More than two dozen employees of the biomass plant were laid off as well when its doors closed.