Tradewinds Forest Products LLC recently started harvesting eucalyptus trees planted in Hamakua in the late- 1990s, a company official said.
Edwin De Luz Trucking has the contract with Tradewinds to move the timber from Hamakua to Kawaihae, where it is being stored prior to being shipped to Asia. Managing member Kevin Balog said Tuesday his company is trying to avoid Waimea’s heavy traffic in the mornings and afternoons by driving the truckloads of timber through the town between 4:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. The exact number of trucks the company hauls varies, Balog said, although he estimated they were taking at least a dozen, and up to 30, a week.
Several West Hawaii residents contacted West Hawaii Today recently after noticing the trucks hauling the logs through town.
The number of logs per load, and the length of De Luz’s contract with Tradewinds, is proprietary, Balog said.
Tradewinds has about 14,000 acres of land in Hamakua, Balog said.
Tradewinds’ George Motta said the eucalyptus trees were planted from 1997 to 2000 specifically to be harvested, and now is the ideal time to do so, because of the trees’ size.
The company tested harvesting and shipping logs to Oahu to be burned at an island power plant instead of coal. Transporting the whole logs wasn’t effective, Motta said.
“If we can find a way to economically move (the wood),” Tradewinds would like to continue to sell the lumber to the AES Hawaii power plant at Barbers Point on Oahu, he added.
For now, Tradewinds is storing the logs near Kawaihae Harbor until it has a sufficient number to ship to Asia, Motta said.
Tradewinds will also supply wood to Hu Honua Bioenergy when that company finishes converting a defunct coal-powered energy plant to a bioenergy facility.
Balog said the contract with Tradewinds means about eight new jobs for the trucking company, and about 15 new jobs total for the Big Island.
“Their intent was to start slowly and ramp up,” Balog said. “That way they can make sure the work and jobs are sustainable.”
Previously, Tradewinds LLC had plans to open a veneer mill for the eucalyptus being grown on the Hamakua property. In 2004, state officials found Tradewinds Forest Products had defaulted on a 2001 agreement to build the mill by mid-2004. At that time, the company was in an agreement that allowed it to harvest timber from state land off Stainback Highway. The company was given until 2008 to build the veneer mill. In 2009, Tradewinds Forest Products CEO Don Bryan told Board of Land and Natural Resources members the company had struggled to get financing for the mill.
The land board, in early 2011, gave the company one last chance to secure the funding. The board has amended the original agreement six times. From July 2008 through early 2011, Tradewinds paid the Department of Land and Natural Resources several hundred thousand dollars for extending various license deadlines and other fees.
The company in 2008 signed a power purchase agreement with Hawaii Electric Light Co. to provide 2 megawatts of electricity, beginning in 2010.