Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, speaks in favor of Senate Bill 87, dealing with lumber grading, on Wednesday, April 26, 2023. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
A bill advancing rapidly toward a final vote in the Alaska Legislature is expected to cheapen the cost of Alaska-made lumber for housing projects.
Senate Bill 87, by Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, passed through the House Finance Committee on Thursday with unanimous bipartisan support and could receive the approval of the full House as early as next week. It passed the Senate, 16-0, on Wednesday.
If approved by the House and Gov. Mike Dunleavy, the bill would set up an in-state quality testing system for lumber produced by Alaska sawmills.
Currently, that lumber must be tested and graded by a national standards organization, and bringing an outside grader to Alaska adds significant costs, state forester Helge Eng said last fall.
Under the new legislation, the University of Alaska Fairbanks would hire a teacher who would train sawmill operators to self-test their wood. Those wood products would be restricted for use in single-family homes, duplexes or triplexes. An independent building inspector would verify the quality of the lumber.
The quality-testing training program would be available at no cost, and the Department of Natural Resources estimates it will cost $221,000 per year to implement and operate.
Chad Hutchison, the university’s legislative liaison, said the university supports that cost estimate.
Unusually, the proposal has been backed by both loggers and environmental groups, with letters of support coming from the Nature Conservancy, Sitka Conservation Society, Alaska State Home Building Association and several small sawmills.
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