By Wednesday, May 11, the first shift will have started at the long-dormant Saratoga sawmill, according to Gary Ervin. Ervin, the managing partner of Saratoga Forest Management (SFM), is a 50 percent owner of the firm, and manages many of the lumber plant’s day-to-day operations.
Production has been on hold at the mill since an early-morning fire disabled the facility in January. At full capacity, the mill employs about 140 people, with an additional 50 contract workers driving trucks or felling trees, Ervin said. Since the fire, however, the largest part of SFM’s workforce has been stuck in a holding pattern collecting unemployment insurance. A few workers had also been kept on payroll to clear debris and repair smoke damage from the fire.
Damage to scanner heads contributed to the long delay in reopening the mill. These specialized instruments use lasers to map out the contours of lumber so that the mill’s saws can cut wood in the most efficient way possible. Ervin estimated that since the fire, two or three employees had moved out of the area, unwilling to wait out the long workless spell.
With the installation of new scanner heads, that period of inactivity will soon come to a close. Ervin said that the new scanners will represent an upgrade in equipment. The new scanners are linear models capable of scanning up to 40 boards per minute, whereas the old transverse scanners could only handle around 25.
In its first week back in production, Ervin said that the mill would likely be operational for five 10-hour shifts. Fifty employees will be working these shifts, and Ervin said his goal is to eventually “work back into a full two shifts (per day).” Ervin declined to speculate as to when the mill would again reach full employment.
Ervin said several procedures including new fire watches had been implemented to minimize the risk of accidental blazes in the future. The January fire had been started by a spark from a millwright’s arc welder.