Updated November 27, 2012 at 4:45 p.m.
Steamboat Springs Stands of dead timber in the Medicine Bow/Routt National Forest near Steamboat Springs will be among those harvested during the next decade under a stewardship contract announced this week by the U.S. Forest Service.
The $4.75 million contract awarded to Confluence Energy of Kremmling is one of two such contracts totaling $13.4 million. A second, $8.66 million contract was awarded to West Range Reclamation of Hotchkiss for work that will be done in the neighboring White River National Forest. Combined, they will treat a minimum of 20,000 acres.
Forest Service spokesman Aaron Voos said the purpose of stewardship grants is to improve the health of the forest while mitigating wildfire danger. But the contracts were awarded with an eye to giving local economies a boost at the same time.
“It’s based on entrepreneurs,” he said. “Hopefully this is the project that will enable Confluence to get on their feet and make a run at a viable industry.”
In Gypsum, along Interstate 70 west of Vail, the second grant will produce biomass for a new electrical power plant.
Voos said Tuesday the first two fuels reduction projects in the Routt National Forest will be closer to Walden than Steamboat on the east side of the Continental Divide. One is near Gould near the base of Cameron Pass on Colorado Highway 14, and the other is near Pinkham Mountain north of Colorado Highway 125 on the way to Laramie, Wyo. However, the Hahn's Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District based in Steamboat will see projects in the not-too-distant future, Voos said.
There are two other projects in Wyoming.
On the Medicine Bow/Routt National Forest, which straddles the Colorado/Wyoming state line, Confluence Energy will remove beetle-killed trees and pile or scatter residual debris that has no commercial value, according to Forest Service spokesman Chris Strebig.
Confluence will pay for the wood it processes into pellets to offset the cost to the government of other forest health efforts in the contract area, he added.
The Forest Service will work flexibly with the private contractors while achieving its own goals, Voos said.
“Absolutely, we’ll use this as a tool to maintain the same approach as we’ve used the last two years, as far as priority projects,” he said.
Voos said those priorities include removing dead timber from “the wildland urban interface, roadsides, the trails and recreation areas and the power line corridors. Those kinds of things are exactly what this is going to be used for.”
When the new timber mill in Saratoga, Wyo., just north of the Colorado line, comes online in December, Forest Service timber specialists will consult with plant managers to learn what they need to fill their orders, helping them to succeed, he added.
Electricity from biomass
The contract with West Range Reclamation on the White River Forest involves creation of electricity from a new biomass-fueled plant in Gypsum.
West Range has partnered with Eagle Valley Clean Energy to provide woody biomass resulting from the fuels reduction project to supply an 11.5-megawatt power plant, Strebig wrote in a prepared statement.
The electricity from the plant would be supplied to Holy Cross Energy, servicing between 8,000 and 10,000 homes from Parachute to Vail and Glenwood Springs to Aspen. Heat from the plant would also be supplied to an adjacent wallboard manufacturing facility in Gypsum.
Eagle Valley Clean Energy estimates the woody biomass electricity plant will support 41 permanent jobs and 107 construction jobs for the region, according to the statement.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com