Chesterfield’s Berkshire Hardwood to close after 25 years in business
Jeff Poirier is president of Berkshire Hardwoods in Chesterfield. KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »
CHESTERFIELD — After a quarter-century in the timber industry, Berkshire Hardwoods, one of the largest sawmills in Massachusetts, is closing its doors at 73 East St.
“I really went back and forth on this,” said sawmill owner Jeffrey Poirier of Conway. “It was a very tough decision to make. I have been in this business for 25 years, 23 of them here in Chesterfield.”
Berkshire Hardwoods’ 13 employees were notified of the closing on Nov. 1.
“I wanted to give them a good heads-up because they have been very good to me,” Poirier said, in a recent phone interview. “I told everybody to put their feelers out and I have made a lot of calls on behalf of people who are looking for jobs.”
According to Poirier, the decision to close the facility was based, in part, on increasing costs of operation, combined with a continued drop in the price of timber.
“Fuel costs are going up and that impacts operating the skidder, forklift and log truck. Meanwhile, the price of timber really has gone down. Red oak, for example, is half the price it was in 2004,” Poirier said.
A decrease in production also affected Poirier’s bottom line.
“In the past we produced about 5.2 million board feet for the year. This year we did about 3.5 million,” he said.
According to Poirier, a moratorium on logging in state forests over the last five years has also taken a bite out of his business.
“I think that it is unfortunate that many people don’t see the value in forestry,” he said. “The responsible and sustainable harvest of timber is an important part of maintaining healthy forests. If there is not some way to make an income by harvesting timber, our forestland could easily be turned into house lots,” Poirier said.
Jeffrey Hutchins, executive director of the Massachusetts Forest Alliance, said sawmill closings in the state are on the rise.
“Over the last 20 years, we have seen more and more closings of sawmills,” Hutchins said. “There are not many big operations like Berkshire Hardwoods left.”
The emerald ash borer, which destroys ash trees, hasn’t been detected in western Massachusetts and has not affected his business, Poirier said. He predicted, however, that if it comes to this area the state would be required to institute a quarantine on timber and that would impact the industry.
Wildlife service buying land
Poirier said that, along with the sawmill, he will be selling the 17 acres of cleared land it sits on, a drying shed, office building and drying kiln to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While the closing date for the sale is Dec. 20, the mill will continue operations for one year.
“I have negotiated to stay here for a year so that I can wind things down and fulfill the obligations that I currently have. We are going to be sawing as long as we have logs here and people to work,” he said.
Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson Tylar Greene said that while the closing is still pending, the agency cannot comment on the selling price of the property or what plans the agency has for the land.
Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnered with The Nature Conservancy to acquire 80 acres in Chesterfield owned by Poirier for the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.
The land, along the Dead Branch Brook, was sold to the wildlife agency for $320,000 in November 2011.
The 17 acres from Berkshire Hardwoods will effectively connect that land with another property currently owned by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“I don’t know what their vision will be for the property, but they do own quite a bit of land to the north and south. This piece will tie all that land together,” Poirier said.
After his business is sold, Poirier said, he hopes to find another job in the timber industry.
“I have some time to sort some things out, to sell all the equipment and look for another job. Hopefully it will be in this industry because the people are just amazing,” he said. “We all work hard. As it is now, I work 70 hours a week. When this is over, I guess I will go out and get a little 40-to-50-hour-a-week part-time job.”