Equipment and Expertise are Keys to Harvesting Upstate New York Timber

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Deny it as they may, many people have a tendency to over-generalize. Mention Los Angeles, and they immediately think smog-ridden and congested. Say “Minnesota,” and they picture a year-round frozen tundra. Mention New York, and they think Manhattan, skyscrapers and a sea of yellow taxicabs. The truth is there are plenty of simply breathtaking areas of Los Angeles; and Minnesota, with its 10,000 lakes, is consistently rated one of the best areas of the country in which to raise a family.

New York State’s story is even more compelling; the state is actually 63 percent forested, with forests covering nearly 19 million acres. With figures like that, one would expect New York to have a healthy logging industry, and it does not disappoint. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), the state annually produces about 488 million board feet of logs along with 2.1 million green tons of pulpwood and wood chips. All told, manufacturing and services related to forest products contribute approximately $14 billion to the state’s economy.

A major player in that effort, Seaway Timber Harvesting, has combined equal parts land ownership, solid contracts and innovative equipment — including a track-mounted Morbark 50/48 drum chipper— to become one of upstate New York’s key providers of wood fiber for a broad range of uses.

Winning Contracts

Started in 1976 and incorporated in 1984, Massena, N.Y.-based Seaway Timber Harvesting works throughout northern New York to produce more than 300,000 tons of wood chips annually. In that time, according to company president and CEO, Pat Curran, the company has grown and, in the process, seen dramatic changes.

“Seaway Timber was actually an Ontario-based company that we purchased back in 1990,” he says. “We ran it solely in Canada for about six months, then brought the equipment and manpower into the States and worked back and forth between Canada and the U.S. for about 15 years. When the paper mill in Cornwall, Ontario shut down, we focused on working exclusively in the U.S. Today we describe ourselves as a forestry management company, and, because of the expertise we bring to the jobsite, we are able to land some of the larger contracts available in the area.”

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One of the contracts to which Curran refers is a 300-acre site (of a total 1,000-acre segment) on the Fort Drum Army Installation in Watertown, N.Y. The base has a robust, concerted forestry effort to manage the more than 70,000 acres of heavily wooded land — acreage that provides a home to hundreds of species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish. The project differs from most in that, while a good percentage of the material cleared gets shipped to Curran’s own pellet mill in Massena, more than half of what his crews chip at the Fort is immediately used onsite in support of the installation’s biomass plant.

“The 60-megawatt plant, recently converted from a coal-fired facility, is located right on Fort Drum,” says Curran. “This area is old farm land that has grown up, and it yields a very marginal low-grade timber, mostly gray birch, red maple and aspen. But that material is ideal for biomass use, and it’s in abundant supply here on the base. So, obviously, from a logistical point of view, this is something of a dream project because we are able to harvest the material, chip it and send it right to the biomass plant.”

Mobility Matters

To maximize efficiency in the chipping facet of operations like the one at Fort Drum, Seaway Timber recently added a track-mounted Morbark 50/48 drum chipper to its fleet. According to Curran, while the machine has benefits that will be felt far beyond the project at Watertown, it is certainly making an impact there.

“On many jobs of this type, we might have a landing in one area and another 1,000 feet away,” he says. “Because timber harvesting and processing are all about efficiency, a company can really suffer in set-up and tear-down time moving between landings. Even if it’s just an hour or so per move, that can add up to major lost production over the course of a project.”

By comparison, he says, with their new track chipper, they simply drive the unit to the pile and in a matter of minutes are chipping their next load. “In other areas of our company, we have crushing and screening equipment, and it is all on tracks. So we have a lot of experience with that approach — if we can put it on tracks, we do. A lot of people balk at the added cost of a track unit, but we’ve proven that any upcharge is quickly offset in productivity. This job has three different landings, each about a half mile from the other. Our lowboy dropped the chipper and loader off here, and the next time he will come out is when he picks them up to move them to another site. Mobility has been huge for us and will continue to be so in the future.”

Seaway’s 50/48 chipper, one of the largest, high-production drum chippers available today, is equipped with Morbark’s exclusive Advantage 3 drum, which is designed to both create more uniform chips and reduce operating and maintenance costs. A reverse pivot yoke increases down pressure for a more aggressive feeding of a wider variety of material. The unit is also equipped with the Morbark Integrated Control System, which benefits Seaway’s operation by allowing both onsite and remote diagnostic monitoring of key indicators such as hydraulic pressure, temperature, feed rate and more.

Customer Commitment

It’s important to note that ReEnergy Holdings, the company that owns and operates the biomass plant on Fort Drum, incentivizes companies to become material suppliers by purchasing the processing equipment of choice for them (in this case Seaway’s Morbark 50/48 drum chipper), then allowing the supplier to work towards full ownership through material supplied.

“This is an ideal situation for us because most contractors need to actively seek a market for the products they create,” Curran says. “We, on the other hand, are fortunate to be working with ReEnergy, who is willing to show their commitment and prove that they are in it with us for the long haul. We took delivery of the Morbark unit from Nortrax last May, and it hasn’t been idle since.”

As mentioned, about half of everything Curran’s crews are cutting and chipping at Fort Drum is slated for use at the onsite biomass plant. He estimates that they alone will be supplying ReEnergy with more than 70,000 tons of chips per year — just a fraction of the half-million tons the plant will use annually.

Additional Endeavors

Curran’s dealings with the wood fiber market extend well beyond Seaway Timber Harvesting. He and brothers Timothy and Lee, have acquired more than 16,000 acres of northern New York land, 10,000 acres of which they are selling through another operation, Curran Development Company. In addition, the trio owns and operates Curran Renewable Energy, a wood pellet plant in Massena, which, at full capacity, has the potential to produce 100,000 tons of pellets annually. While Pat Curran recognizes that the pellet market can be fickle and uncertain, he says the past year has been a very busy one.

“The pellet market is bigger today than it’s been in a long time, though we have no idea how long that demand will last,” he says. In our five years producing pellets, this is the first year in which we’ve been unable to take every order that’s come our way. We are proud of the fact that our pellet mill is the first in the U.S. to be certified to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards by the Rainforest Alliance’s SmartWood program. We are also proud to take a leadership role in effectively balancing the increasing demand for renewable energy sources with the absolute need to protect our forests. And, in many ways, the equipment we choose also helps make that happen. Whether it’s the new Morbark track chipper or flails, or the Cat de-limber we use, our equipment helps us meet the needs of particular markets and utilize specific parts of the forest so much better.