Council, WSFPI meet on future of mill

The Warm Springs Forest Products Industries management met with Tribal Council this week.

The WSFPI team presented a financial forecast for 2016. This was the most accurate and honest financial accounting provided by the mill in years, Council members said.

On the other hand the numbers were a matter of serious concern for the Council. The level of debt at WSFPI, and the 2016 financial outlook, raised the possibility of some major change in the mill operation.

The sale of the trust asset of reservation timber provides for the Senior Pension Fund, and per capita.

The tribes have to receive a fair market value for the timber, or the BIA would issue a cease and desist order on the mill operation.

The BIA would allow below market value sales of the trust asset only on the condition that Tribal Council put in writing that the Council is aware of the below market sales, and is approving such sales.

Council members say the idea of selling reservation timber to WSFPI for less than fair market is a disservice to the rest of membership.

This subject is difficult because the mill employs about 60 tribal members, and Council members do not want to shut the mill. On the other hand, they are elected to oversee the tribal assets for the membership at large, which numbers 5,332, many of them young people.

The mill board has not made a recommendation as to a future course of action that would see the mill operation at least break even.

The projected loss in 2016, as presented to Council on Monday, is over $10 million. Even if the tribes were to give the timber away to WSFPI, and receive no compensation, the mill operation apparently would still end up losing significant money this year.

This is not the fault of the current mill management and board members, Councilman Carlos Smith said.

Instead, for many years in previous decades, WSFPI gave tens of millions of dollars in dividends to the tribes’ general fund.

Some of this money could have been invested into the operation, but that was not done, and now the operation is in jeopardy, Councilman Smith said.