Local company may buy Western Excelsior mill site

Friday, April 20, 2018 9:02 PM
The Western Excelsior fire destroyed the majority of the mill in 2017. Nearly 100 people lost their jobs.
An employee shows the excelsior product made at the Western Excelsior plant in Mancos, which burned down in May. Aspen Wall Wood is looking to purchase the mill site and rebuild operations on a smaller scale.
The fire that destroyed the Western Excelsior mill also impacted the local economy.
Tours of Western Excelsior plant included watching a wattle being made in this file photo. The tours were part of the national manufacturing day.

Aspen Wall Wood is interested in purchasing the remaining assets of the Western Excelsior mill facility in Mancos, officials from both companies announced during a Montezuma County commissioners meeting.

Aspen Wall Wood owner David Sitton said there is a preliminary buy-sell agreement, and the company is seeking financing to close the deal.

“We are looking to restart the Mancos mill and rehire some folks,” Sitton said at the meeting on April 9.

Western Excelsior’s mill operation was destroyed by a fire in May 2017, but its large aspen log inventory and some wood processing equipment were spared.

If the deal goes through, the Mancos mill would become Aspen Wood Products, a sister company to Aspen Wall Wood of Dolores.

The fire-damaged mill site would be restored to produce baled excelsior, a shredded aspen product sold for a variety of markets, Sitton said. It would provide 12 to 15 jobs.

A potential purchase price was not disclosed.

The mill would be rebuilt on a smaller scale than the original Western Excelsior plant, Sitton said. It would not produce the array of specialized erosion-control mats and wattle tubes that provided more than 100 jobs before the fire. Much of the expensive equipment needed for those products was destroyed in the fire.

“Our goal would be to focus on producing the raw excelsior that has a market demand for a variety of uses,” Sitton said.

Key aspen shredding equipment at the plant to make excelsior survived the fire, and other equipment can be rebuilt and retrofitted, he said. Some facility construction will also be required.

The potential purchase includes the 34-acre mill site, a stockpile of aspen logs and equipment not affected by the fire such as an industrial log peeler, truck scale and a loader crane.

“We’re ready to move forward and make the transition as smooth as possible,” said Zachary Snyder, president of Western Excelsior Corp.

The Aspen Wall Wood mill, located south of Dolores off Colorado Highway 184, would remain a separate business and continue to produce aspen and pine paneling.

The two mills have historically worked to divide aspen logging sales, with smaller trees going to Wester Excelsior for shredding and larger ones going to Aspen Wall Wood to make paneling. Sitton said operating both mills for different aspen products is a practical business venture and allows aspen logging sales to be managed more efficiently.

“There is a lot of benefit for us to have the two locations,” Sitton said. “We feel like we can make it work and want to get the (excelsior) mill back up and running as quickly as we can.”

After Western Excelsior shut down, some aspen logging operations in the San Juan National Forest were put on hold. Sitton said there are 200 loads of stacked aspen timber waiting to be hauled out of the forest, “so we can put truckers back to work also.”

The commissioners were supportive of the potential purchase and said they would help out where they could. The mill property is partially within Montezuma County and partially within the town of Mancos.

“We need the jobs, and we need our forest to be harvested,” said commissioner Keenan Ertel.