The Planned Closing of Pyramid, Announced in
November did not happen. Pyramid was reorganized with new financing
arranged for by Missoula County and others.
For the Happy Ending, jump ahead
to this story in May, 2001.
January 18, 2001
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
Loren Rose, Pyramid comptroller, visits with friends while Missoula County Commissioners and other officials prepare for a hearing on Pyramid support in the community.
by Gary Noland
For the Pathfinder
Over two hundred people filled the bleachers at the Seeley Lake Elementary gymnasium last Thursday, and they were all of one mind in expressing total support and empathy for this town's main employer, Pyramid Mountain Lumber, Inc.
It felt more like a family reunion than an official hearing required as part of a plan being put together by Missoula County Economic Development Corporation to keep the independent sawmill and planer operation from closing down after 51 years of operation.
Missoula County Commissioners, taking official comments required for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds, heard people talk of Pyramid as a "friend, a trusted friend," one that has given to the community and earned its respect and admiration.
Pyramid, which has employed around 130 people here, had announced last November it would close early this year, but is considering a plan proposed by Missoula County Economic Development director Dick King to keep the mill operating with a financial infusion of over $2 milion in loans and funding from federal, state and private sources.
King said up to $400,000 in CDBG funds are available for economic development. Public hearings are required before applying for these funds normally loans for economic development.
County Commissioners Barbara Evans, Jeanne Curtiss and Bill Carey listened to people speak in favor of Pyramid.
Jack Kopps, a trustee with the Seeley Swan Medical Center which has just opened a new facility on Highway 83, said the "...loss of the mill will be truly devastating to us. It will have a crippling effect and a chilling impact. We're all concerned about the mill," he said, adding that the mill is more than an industry, it is "a friend, a trusted friend."
Stan Nicholson, president of the Double Arrow Landowner's Association, pointed out the personal connections that are felt with Pyramid who last year celebrated 51 years in the community, pointing out that he and Roger Johnson, Pyramid president, used to play football against each other...years ago.
"This is a changing community," Nicholson said, pointing out that there have been around 500 new homes built in the community in the past 11 years with about half of those homes on the Double Arrow Ranch 2,500-acre subdivision. He urged commissioners to support application for CDBG funds on behalf of Pyramid.
Even though growth has been ongoing for several years now, Seeley Lake is still a small community and tough at times for small businesses.
"I don't feel too good about Pyramid Closing," said Bob Skiles who owns Clearwater Towing. "I don't know if we can make it even if they stay. It's devastating, it's terrible,"
Neil Meyer from Condon thanked Pyramid for "their generosity." He logged for Pyramid for 24 years, from 1971 to 1995. "We need them around," he said.
Tim Tanberg, a local contractor who has worked for the mill, provoked a round of applause when he thanked the "Johnsons and Moods for keeping the mill operating as long as they have. They did everything to keep people employed."
Randy Teague, Blackfoot Telephone employee, said, "Pyramid has always been an important part of this valley and community. There isn't a soul in this room that will not be affected by their closing."
Hal Sheets has 20 years with Pyramid. "My father retired from the mill. I don't want to move. I asked the Job Service how many jobs were available in Seeley Lake and there was not one! I have a large family...it will be hard for me."
Warren Gehrke graduated from high school here and has spent 20 years with the mill. "I can only imagine what Roger and Doug (Mood) went through to make the announcement of the mill closing. They've helped a lot of people...I'd like to see them get some help."
Tom Vannoy, a rancher near Ovando, said Pyramid has helped a lot of people by buying timber from area ranches. "Give them all the support you can. I hope we can work something out."
Dan Wurster, pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, said there is a "way of life and qulity of life that people come here for. That way of life will change if the mill goes down."
Bob Grace just moved to Seeley Lake. Admittedly a former tree hugger, he said he had come to realize that Pyramid creates wealth in the community. Retail businesses circulate wealth, but they bring money into Seeley Lake."
Tom Morris has been in Seeley Lake for 25 years and has spent 20 of those years with Pyramid. "It's all I know for work. It's the only decent living you can make in Seeley Lake," he said.
Larry Marx said "...the mill has always been the main thing in Seeley Lake," and he urged commissioners to not only support Pyramid but to consider infrastructure support for Seeley Lake so it can become more diversified. "We've been going forward for many years, don't let Seeley Lake go backwards."
Patty Bartlett Dunlop whose family is involved with Seeley Lake Trucking, said half of the 16 trucks on the road in any given day are hauling for Pyramid. "Our guys are older guys, 56 to 58, and it won't be easy for them to try and find a job."
Bruce Wold, Valley Market owner, said he has known Dick King for many years and that "if anyone can make it work, Dick can do it." He urged Commissioners to get behind Pyramid and help them get to wherever they want to go.
Mike Sexton who has worked 10 years at the mill said he and his family would have to look outside the community for employment. "I don't want to leave this community," he said.
Several out of town visitors in the logging industry showed up to voice their support.
Ryan Miller, with a Great Falls whose lumber business, said he has depended on Pyramid for 40 years and has never had a quality complaint. "We need to keep this mill and this community in place."
Larry Ashmore, retired to Seeley Lake in recent years, sparked genuine applause when he said the community should not put undue burden on the mill owners to keep the mill open, recognizing that the final decision has to make financial sense.
Ashmore questioned King as to the odds of his plan succeeding, but King passed on quoting percentages, but said there is a "collaborative effort" by several parties in a complicated plan.
One of Pyramid's owners, Doug Mood, also House District 58 Representative, took the floor toward the end of the meeting. He said he had had many expressions of concern over the announced mill closing from all over the state.
"None has had more meaning to me than what I have heard here tonight," he said.
Commissioners will accept written comments until January 24.