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Perras Lumber shuts sawmill for 5 months, pallet business thriving

April 06, 2011
GROVETON — Businesses in the forest products industry continue to be forced to make substantial adjustments in today's economy, which includes dramatically fewer new housing starts.

Bob Perras of Perras Lumber, Inc., shut down his sawmill at 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon and does not plan to reopen it until September 1.

The pallet end of the operation generates nearly three times more business when measured in dollars than does the sawmill, and it will continue to operate.

For the first time in 37 years, Perras explained in a Monday morning telephone interview, the sawmill ran out of logs. This happened because of a combination of factors, including slow payment of suppliers' bills, inability to pay the higher prices that pulpwood is now commanding, the sagging woodchip prices now being paid by struggling biomass plants, and poor weather conditions in the woods, Perras said.

He is able to buy sawed lumber from 10 other sawmills for less money than he can produce it at his own mill, he explained.

"I'm not going out of business, and I'm not laying people off," Perras said, adding that, nonetheless, shuttering the sawmill has been a difficult and emotional decision. Unfounded rumors that he is going out of business have also been painful to deal with, he said.

Perras Lumber produces pallets for some large customers, and that end of the business is doing very well.

"Nobody will be laid off," Perras said. Some of the approximately 20 workers are being asked to take paid vacations, however.

The woodchips needed by A. B. Logging so that it can fulfill its contract with Weeks Medical Center for its new state-of-the-art biomass heat-and-hot-water facility over the next five months are already stored in the Perras yard, he explained.

The decision to cut off the three-phase power supplied by Public Service of New Hampshire on Friday afternoon was a collaborative one made by several family members over a number of days, Perras explained. He was able to purchase a nearly new diesel-powered generator at auction for a bargain-basement price, allowing the Perras operation to eliminate paying some $30,000 a month to PSNH for the next five months.

Although these kinds of decisions have been difficult to make, preserving the company and maintaining payroll have been of paramount importance, Perras explained.

The family-owned business survived the fire that devastated it on Oct. 7, 1994, and Perras anticipates that their response to today's difficult and ever-changing market conditions will also result in maintaining a strong locally-owned company.

Salmon Press
Martin Lord Osman
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