March 14, 2001 11:00 pm

By Gary Fletcher

Observer Staff Writer

ENTERPRISE Thanks to a new partnership, the Joseph Timber sawmill will put a 40-person shift back to work by the end of April.

The workers were laid off last year.

A limited investment in Joseph Timber Company by Wallowa Resources, a community non-profit organization, will make it possible for the mill to begin sawing logs again.

The amount of the investment will be made public Friday, the Wallowa Resources staff said.

April 20 is the target date for the main mill to resume operations, depending on market conditions, owner Steve Krieger said.

This new partnership will provide for the completion of the second phase of the mills new small log processing system by July. The processors first phase was built by mill employees, keeping them employed during slow times, Krieger said.

Five employees have been brought back to construct the second phase of the processor, which uses slash or chip material.

It made sense to hook up. This is kind of a hybrid relationship, Krieger said about the new concept in collaborative community-based development, from which a new style of value-added sustainable wood processing is emerging.

These are some of the things you have to do today to be in this business, Krieger said about survival in a highly regulated industry. The Forest Service is the most regulated industry, next to the Nuclear Regulatory Agency.

Krieger values not only Wallowa Resources investment, but the ways he expects the organization can help open things up with federal agencies in order to get logs from public and private lands.

Wallowa Resources five years of experience, expertise and relationships with federal regulatory agencies and foundations that fund grants should prove valuable to the mill that has operated under different owners for 22 years, Krieger said.

Wallowa Resources executive director, Diane Snyder, and field program director Nils Christoffersen will become part of a new policy board along with the majority shareholders Steve and Paula Krieger and shareholder-manager Dave Shriner. Daily operational management of the company is expected to remain the same.

Jim Quinn, recently retired CEO of the Collins Pine Company, has been contracted by Wallowa Resources to provide advice on the direction of the company. His assessment and recommendations will be shared with local landowners and potential investors.

Wallowa Resources investment in Joseph Timber Co. is on behalf of the community, Snyder said. It has been made due to the progressive position of the company in respect to smaller diameter material, the ability to manufacture wood products certified as environmentally safe, and the need to maintain local workforce skills after six months of curtailment.

The partnership is based on a common vision of a wood processing facility in Wallowa County capable of utilizing byproducts from forest and watershed health restoring activities while maintaining or creating family-wage job and business opportunities to benefit the local economy, Snyder said.

Initial emphasis will be on small, 3- to 5-inch diameter logs.

Both parties anticipate that the partnership and the resumption of mill operations will generate interest among local investors in Joseph Timbers current stock offering.

Local investment could be helpful to the long-term viability of the company.

If local investors fully subscribe to the offering, Wallowa Resources role in the company will be re-evaluated, a press release said.

Whatever Wallowa Resources future role in the company, the community organization will continue to pursue new economic opportunities linked to forest and watershed restoration in Wallowa County, the press release said.

Last year 125 millworkers in Wallowa County were laid off, with more than 70 of those from Joseph Timber Co.