Sunday | April 19, 2015
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Cutting Crew

Terry Oliver, a four-decade forestry veteran, has high hopes for the eucalyptus timber industry on the Big Island.

As the harvest operator and marketing manager for GMO Renewable Resources LLC in Hawaii, Oliver manages Tradewinds Forest Products LLC’s 13,800 acres of eucalyptus grandis, a hybrid developed to grow straight and tall quickly, Oliver said Wednesday.

More importantly, the tree stump sprouts after being cut down, growing big enough to harvest again after seven years, about the same amount of time Oliver estimated it would take the company to cut down the trees it now has. Already, some tree sprouts have shot up more than 20 feet since first being cut last year, and trees cut last spring are nearing 16 to 18 feet.

“There should never be an end because of the way they regrow themselves,” Oliver said. “It will be time to start over again.”

Oliver was hired a few months ago and began working at the site in November. It’s his job to help investors behind the project make money, eventually. It would be better sooner than later, he said, laughing a little.

“We’re quite proud of it actually, to come in and do this,” he said. “We’re going to be here.”

At the present logging site, not far from Honokaa, five workers harvest the timber. Since work began in the spring, the company has sent three ships, the most recent earlier this month with 6 million board feet of lumber, to Asia. Oliver said the larger logs are used for plywood core, while the smaller pieces, from the treetops, as well as the bark, can eventually be used to power energy generation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture inspects the loads before the ships leave the country, he added.

Oliver said he can see a strong future for the operation on the island. He said he knew the company needed to start harvesting trees before getting a commitment from an energy generator to purchase the wood to burn. The company previously announced plans to provide the wood to Hu Honua, which is converting an old coal power plant to a bioenergy facility.

“We had to get the logging show going to show we could do it,” he said.

The trees were planted between 1997 and 2000 as a crop to be harvested. Many stands of the trees can be seen along Mamalahoa Highway outside Honokaa, Oliver said.

One thing he’s noticed that sets Hawaii apart from other timber-growing areas is the weather.

“Almost anywhere you go, you have a breakup season, too muddy, too snowy,” Oliver said. “This is 12 months a year.”

They do stop during heavy rains, because they don’t want to create mud or dig deep ruts in the ground, he added.

Most members of the logging crew grew up on the Big Island, and all of the Edwin DeLuz Trucking and Gravel drivers who haul the logs did, as well, Oliver said. He was full of praise for the equipment operators, who took construction experience with similar heavy machinery and translated it to logging operations.

Oliver said he wants Hawaii Island residents to see the timber industry as a way to provide long-term, steady employment. If the crops keep growing, and if a power plant on the island opts to burn things like the smaller tree portions and bark to create steam power, Big Island residents will be able to study forestry and get good paying jobs, he said.

The process Tradewinds follows is a simple routine: One machine cuts and bunches the logs. Another machine picks up the logs and takes them to an area for processing. There, a single machine picks up the log, measures length and diameter, via sensors in the gripping mechanism, then a computer tells the operator the optimal spots to cut the log. The machine strips the bark and a chainsaw within the part holding the log cuts it to size. Logs are sorted by grade, and only a centimeter separates an A-grade log from a lesser grade, Oliver said.

Each log gets its own bar code, which, if scanned, provides the length, diameter and volume of wood. When a customer orders a specific volume of wood, a program will tell the company which logs, by bar code, to ship.

At the Kawaihae storage yard, the company uses water to keep the dust from stirring up too badly between the stacks of logs and has planted a line of trees rather than just use a black dust fence that will one day catch other blowing dust, Oliver said. About a week ago, when they loaded the 6 million board feet of timber on o the container ship, they had their state permits in hand and used flaggers and lights to help with traffic.

“We’re trying to be a good neighbor,” Oliver said.