Sawmill’s big plans after devastating firestorm
When a horrific firestorm ripped through Rappville in October 2019, more than 20 properties in the area were destroyed.
The catastrophic blaze had a devastating impact on the village.
Through sheer hard work, and a little luck, the sawmill was saved, but about $200,000 worth of timber was lost.
The owner of O'Connor Sawmilling, the foreman and a number of workers and contractors had risked their lives and stayed behind to protect the property.
Just four days later, the sawmill was operating again.
Its resilience and continued operation has been a beacon of hope for the bushfire-ravaged village ‒ the mill is the largest employer for Rappville and the surrounding area.
Now there are big plans for the future of the sawmill.
O'Connor Sawmilling Rappville has lodged a development application with Richmond Valley Council for a project that will keep more profits local, generate new jobs, and see state-of-the-art equipment flown in from Europe.
The DA is for the construction of a large shed for air drying timber, with an enclosed section for moulding machines, and a prefabricated solar drying kiln.
According to documents lodged with the council, O'Connors only took over the sawmill two months before the firestorm.
"Following the fire, a decision had to be made either to close the mill and lose vital jobs, or continue with a more resilient operation," the report states.
"The latter choice was made and management moved quickly to assess and reduce the fire risk, secure log supply, secure transport reliability, improve the efficiency of the mill and value-add to milled timber."
Part of this value-adding will be to dry timber on-site and mould it as requested by clients.
Moulded timber is deemed a "high value commodity".
"This project will allow O'Connor Sawmilling Rappville to complete this work onsite and retain the profits generated in the business," the report states.
"Moulding uses machines to cut a profile into sawn timber.
"This 'moulded' timber is used for tongue and groove flooring, architraves, skirting boards and other applications in the building industry."
If approved, the owners of the sawmill would source machinery with the latest technology from Germany.
It is expected to have the moulding capabilities operational by late 2021 or early 2022.
After the firestorm, O'Connors are planning other changes to the sawmill, so the property is better prepared to cope with such an extreme event.
New equipment was bought, including a backup diesel generator, tractor with slasher and finishing mower, and three additional, stand-alone 1000L firefighting pods.
Sawdust is now sold and removed from the site, and saw waste wood is chipped and sent to the Broadwater and Harwood sugar mills.
A firefighting water main will be installed on the southern boundary this year, as well as an overhead sprinkler system in the mill.
The development application for the moulding project is on public exhibition until February 12.
For more information, or to make a submission, visit the website.