A Plummer particle board plant that shut its doors in August amid mechanical difficulties and falling prices is back in business. Pacific Northwest Fiber is producing particle board from recycled grass and wheat straw after a four-month shutdown. During that time it rewired and updated machines. The plant reopened with a round-the-clock production schedule that has 40 full-time employees producing 64,000 square feet of particle board daily. While prices remain low for all wood and wood substitute products, like strawboard, the company is shipping boards as fast as its employees can turn them out. The business is a cooperative venture between the tribe and Seeds Inc., a Washington-based grass-growers association. The groups came together two years ago on the heels of a Washington state ban on agricultural burning. With the idea they might be able to create a market for grass straw, the venture invested $6 million in the former Rayonier mill site in Plummer to create Pacific Northwest Fiber. The plant began production in October 1999. Unlike wood particle board plants which require huge investments and have high operating costs, the strawboard plant is a relatively modest operation. Pacific bought the production line from a plant in Australia that went belly up during the Asian financial crisis.
The tribe bought 387 acres of property within its reservation, including 2 miles of frontage on Windy Bay on Lake Coeur d'Alene, Jan. 8 from the Kootenai Land Co. of Wallace. The property had been owned for 35 years by Harry and Colleen Magnuson and their five children. "This is the completion of a long journey back to the lake," Tribal Chairman Ernie Stensgar said. "We've answered the prayers of a modern and progressive tribe, along with the prayers of our ancestors." "It's an ideal place for 100 different things," said tribal press secretary Bob Bostwick. "We would not want anyone to think we're leaning one particular direction." Magnuson said he closed the deal on Jan. 5 after 15 years of talking with the tribe. Bolstered by a lucrative gaming business at the casino near Worley, tribal leaders began to talk more seriously with Magnuson last year. Bostwick said Magnuson "appreciates the history and traditions of the tribe and the entire region." Market value of the land runs about $5 million, said a senior deputy assessor with Kootenai County. The purchase was financed through gaming profits, 25 percent of which are set aside for land purchases, Bostwick said.