Daniel Stubbings (left) and Andrew McIntosh go to work on the Urbenville Timbers Mill.
Daniel Stubbings (left) and Andrew McIntosh go to work on the Urbenville Timbers Mill. Jay Cronan

Cutting edge of a boom

THE first thing the new owners of the Urbenville sawmill did when they took over was to get the old steam whistle working again.

The whistle had fallen silent after the mill closed down in December 2010, leaving 22 people out of work and debts of nearly $4 million owed by the previous owners, Ford Timbers.

In a boost for the town, the sawmill was taken over by Urbenville Timbers with at least 60 jobs expected to be created when the mill reopens at full capacity in January 2012.

New operations manager Greg Steel said that people of the town were anxious to hear the whistle again.

"The whistle comes from an 1890 paddle steamer and was used at the original sawmill at Drake," he said.

"The people in the town want to hear it so they know we are making progress."

Mr Steel and a small team have been running machinery tests over the past two weeks and are already producing timber to sell.

There are currently 14 members of staff working on site with at least 10 of them previous employees of Ford Timbers.

As well as reopening the sawmill, Urbenville Timber will continue to operate a timber processing and treatment plant at nearby Woodenbong, which produces floorboards, decking and architraves.

The company has also purchased 5ha of land next door to the Urbenville mill and will move the Woodenbong operation there within the next year.

Jason Flint, a former employee of Fords, is back at Urbenville Timbers.

He got all his annual leave and long service entitlements but lost 16 years worth of super when the mill closed last year.

"It's just brilliant that the plant will reopen," Mr Flint said.

"It's a second beginning for me and my family."

Mr Steel said that one of the things that made it feasible to re-open the Urbenville mill was its unique design.

"We are recovering 38-40% from log to timber compared to 20-22% in the old days," he said.

"The automated set-up is one of the most modern in the Northern Rivers.

"We use every bit of timber, sawdust and chip, even the bark gets used.

"The new mill will be sourcing logs from local landowners; local farmers are very switched on about plantation timber now.

"One of the best things to come out of the upheavals in the timber industry over the past 20 years is that the industry is a lot more sustainable these days.

"It's one of the reasons I became involved in this operation."

The bar manager at the Crown Hotel, Donna Pulbrook, already likes the look of the new owners.

"The new owners seem like really nice people with some great plans for the area," Ms Pulbrook said.

"I hope they do better than the last owners."


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