Deal angers local loggers | SteamboatToday.com

Deal angers local loggers

Companies that won contracts say they aim to hire area businesses

Blythe Terrell

Millions of dollars in stimulus money is coming to Routt County’s forests, but local loggers don’t know if they’ll see any of it.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act gave $2.2 million to the Routt National Forest to remove beetle-killed trees in Routt, Jackson and Grand counties, according to a news release. The money represents the first 10 percent of stimulus-funded projects. The tree-removal contracts went to companies in California and Florida, upsetting some local loggers.

The U.S. Forest Service had only seven days to award the contracts, said Diann Ritschard, spokeswoman for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests & Thunder Basin National Grassland. The Small Business Administration keeps a list of 8(a) contractors, or socially and economically disadvantaged small businesses.

“They are already in the system and ready to bid on projects,” Ritschard said. The Forest Service’s regional office, not the local office, handled the process, she said.

Sierra Nevada Forestry Service, of Yuba City, Calif., and Sweat Inc., of Pensacola, Fla., won the contracts. Officials from both said they planned to seek local subcontractors for the tree removal projects. They want companies that have equipment and meet strict safety standards, however.

“I understand being local and wanting to do local work; that’s very understandable,” Sweat Inc. owner Robert Sweat said. “We’re just going to do everything we can to be in compliance and use the local help.”

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Marisa Acevedo, of Sierra Nevada Forestry Service, declined to comment beyond what she said in a news release.

In that statement, she said the company “will make an earnest effort in hiring and/or subcontracting to local companies who are qualified and possess the equipment necessary to accomplish hazard tree removal.”

The money will go to remove roadside hazard trees from Forest Road 100, Forest Road 550, Forest Road 80 and Forest Roads 681, 689 and 600 in the Big Creek Lakes area near Walden, according to the Forest Service. Ritschard said the local ranger districts were making a list of local companies they could call for smaller projects that don’t require bids.

Dan Shaffer, a logger from Clark, said he was frustrated that no local companies even had a chance to bid on the tree removal.

“We’ve got loggers sitting around here on our hands,” Shaffer said.

He said it was unnecessary to hire out-of-state contractors even if they subcontract to locals. The Forest Service could have cut out the middleman by contracting locally from the get-go, Shaffer said. The big profits will wind up in Florida and California, he said.

Frank Gerken owns Routt County Logging and heard about the contracts from Shaffer. He said he was booked this summer and didn’t plan to bid on the work. Still, he’s afraid this could become a trend.

“We’re going to have out-of-state contractors again coming in and doing at least the oversight work that could have been done locally,” Gerken said. “So what you’ve done is added another layer of cost and another layer of management to the project. : Why not just bid it out to start with and save money for the U.S. Treasury?”

Some regional companies hope to benefit from the projects. Dennis Hutson, co-owner of Forest Products Inc. in Walden, said he could use the work.

“We’re unemployed loggers right now,” Hutson said. “We went from a crew of nine people to my partner and myself. We’re trying to survive.”

He said he contacted the Forest Service to get the skinny on the way it awarded the contracts. Hutson said he was told that using the 8(a) contractors allowed the agency to push through the deal fast enough to get the stimulus money.

“I’m not happy about it, but it was explained to me, and I guess I can understand their end of it,” he said.

Sweat, the Florida logger, said his company was open to hearing from locals. He plans to start on the work here as soon as it’s dry enough.

Sweat said he was aware of the concerns coming from Northwest Colorado loggers.

“Really, with the economy the way it is, I totally understand,” Sweat said. “I mean, I’m a working guy.”

On the ‘Net

Information about federal contracting opportunities is at fedbizopps.gov.