Hotchkiss firm wins $8.66 million forest restoration contract

A Hotchkiss company has received a nearly $8.7 million federal contract to clear trees in a national forest as part of efforts to combat a pine beetle epidemic in the region.

Some of the wood that’s removed will serve as fuel for a power plant planned for Gypsum.

West Range Reclamation won an $8.66 million contract from the U.S. Forest Service to remove trees in the White River National Forest in Colorado.

Confluence Energy in Kremmling was awarded a second contract of $4.75 million to remove trees on the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest in Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming.

The two contracts identify projects to treat a total of at least 20,000 acres in the two forests over 10 years. The contracts add to the $100 million the Forest Service has directed to addressing the effects of mountain pine beetle infestations in the region.

Since the late 1990s, an estimated 1.7 million acres of the White River and Medicine Bow-Routt forests have been affected by pine beetles that have killed 70 percent to 80 percent of mature lodgepole and ponderosa pines.

“Not only will these contracts help us alleviate the impacts of the mountain pine beetle infestation and reduce the threats of catastrophic wildfire, but they also will offer a supply of woody biomass that will be used to produce low-cost heat and a clean, renewable source of electricity,” said Harris Sherman, under secretary of the Department of Agriculture.

Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest, said the work will help restore the landscape as well as produce wood products for everything from lumber to wood pellets to power plant fuel.

West Range Reclamation will remove lodgepole and ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, Engleman spruce and aspen and other tree species susceptible to insect and disease infestations.

The contract is the latest for a forest management company that has completed more than 300 contracts and 70,000 acres of range and forest projects on public and private land in five western states.

“The continued stability of the 10-year project will allow West Range to provide well-paying, steady, year-round work for our current employees and the ability to hire more skilled operators,” said Pam Motley of West Range Reclamation.

“We also intend to do our part to help strengthen local economies by purchasing products and services — such as fuel, food, housing, tools, parts, supplies, rentals and repair services — from local businesses,” Motley added.

Part of the wood removed during the treatments will provide fuel for a 11.5-megawatt power plant planned for Gypsum.

Eagle Valley Clean Energy plans to build the woody biomass plant to supply electricity to Holy Cross Energy and, in turn, an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 homes in Western Colorado.

Heat generated at the power plant will support the operation of an adjacent wallboard factory.

The USDA Rural Utilities Service announced in October a $40 million loan guarantee to help finance the plant.

Eagle Valley Clean Energy estimates the plant will create 107 construction jobs and 41 permanent jobs.

Confluence Energy will remove beetle-killed trees. Where commercially practical, the wood will be used for lumber, wood pellets and other products. The company will pay for those materials to offset the cost of the removal project.