Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Nearly four months after Pyramid Mountain Lumber announced its plans to end operations and close its gates, Missoula Economic Partnership remains hopeful that a buyer will emerge before the mill is dismantled.

Grant Kier, head of the Missoula Economic Partnership, told county officials on Thursday that several potential buyers remain interested in the mill. He said those conversations remain ongoing, though time may be running out.

“There are no new logs coming into Pyramid,” said Kier. “They’ve set July 15 as the date they’d begin selling equipment at auction. It’s really until then that they’d accept a compelling offer. There are still a few parties interested.”

The mill, located in Seeley Lake, has been a staple of the community for generations and is the area’s largest employer. The company announced its plans to close in early March, citing labor shortages, a lack of housing for employees, rising operating costs and falling lumber prices.

“We’re hopeful that one of those (potential buyers) has the wherewithal and expertise and the potential to put an offer on the table that meets Pyramid’s needs and would keep wood products arriving,” Kier said. “One of the big concerns among the parties interested in operating that in the future is the availability of supply.”

Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick toured a forest restoration project earlier this week and, based on feedback, he believes a new operating model could breath new life into the aging Seeley Lake mill.

Rather than a model based around lumber, one could explore a model aimed toward forest restoration. Those efforts are also dependent upon the availability of a mill, he said.

“Going forward, the commodity piece for the purpose of an existing mill may actually be smaller than it was in the past, and the restoration ecology and restoration economy piece might be larger,” Slotnick said. “The disparate pieces need to be brought together and a new business model created.”

Kier agreed that a new business model could emerge, and added that support from both the state and federal government could be explored. As it stands, he said, there is a “team that has the wherewithal to pull this off.”

“It’s going to be incredibly expensive to modernize that facility, and it’s going to require incurring losses in the short term to get to that place,” said Kier. “If the county, the state and the federal governments can work together and think about the benefits to the county, the region and the state, and the federal government with its forestry lands here, we hope we can come up with some incentives to offset some of that loss and help get someone across the finish line.”

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