County News

Timber takes a new look in Clackamas County

The “T3” building in Minneapolis is the largest mass timber bulding in the United States, standing seven stories tall and measuring 220,000 square feet. Photo courtesy of Hines REIT

Error message

In order to filter by the "in queue" property, you need to add the Entityqueue: Queue relationship.
"Plywood on steroids" could be an economic game-changer for timber counties

A new wood product could be a real economic game-changer for Clackamas County, Ore. and other counties around the country where timber is harvested.

Cross-laminated timber or “mass timber” — kiln-dried wood that is stacked crosswise and glued together — is so strong it can replace steel, masonry and concrete. An added benefit: Instead of giving off carbon, it sequesters it, thereby slowing global warming.

“It’s kind of like plywood on steroids,” said Rick Gruen, manager, Clackamas County Parks & Forest, Ag and Forest Economic Development.

Different wood species can be used but Douglas fir, grown in Clackamas County, is ideal, he noted. “That puts us at a unique advantage.”

New information out this month from Market Research Reports notes that the market for cross-laminated timber is forecast to surge by 15 percent by 2025.

Gruen likens the new wood product to the agriculture industry’s “farm to table” movement, except this is the “forest to framework” movement.

A building that would normally take several weeks or months can be done in shorter timeframe with the new wood product, he said, because the pieces are created before they’re brought to the building site.

Cross-laminated timber has been used extensively in Austria, Germany and Canada, and is now catching on here, he said.

The new wood product is being used sporadically across the country as building codes catch up to the new product.

“In the United States, the processing [of the wood product] is a new technology,” Gruen said. Building codes in the United States “aren’t there yet” and there is still a lot of testing being done.

Projects that are being built are “one-offs” at the moment, requiring more planning in the design phase.

He sees the building codes catching up within three to five years, making the building process less complicated.

Legislation introduced in Congress is designed to streamline those building codes.

The Timber Innovation Act would also incentivize the mass timber industry.

Supporters of the bill say it will not only create jobs but also establish a new market for small-diameter trees and branches, encouraging more active forest management at a time of increasingly large and destructive wildfires.

A grant program would advance the use of innovative wood products and a competition for tall wood building (“plyscrapers”) designs would expose more to the new product.

Some architects are already catching on. Michael Green Architecture called its timber building in Minneapolis — dubbed “T3” for Timber, Technology and Transit — a “game changer” for the commercial building industry. The largest mass timber building in the United States (when it was completed in 2016) stands seven stories tall and measures 220,000 square feet.

The architecture firm has also designed an even larger 11-story timber skyscraper for Newark, N.J. that is in the works.

“We’re seeing a groundswell movement … there are environmental advantages and we’re able to see more emphasis on sustainable forest practices,” Gruen said. There seems to be more acceptance by environmentalists of harvesting trees these days.

“That’s a significant change in the whole paradigm…nobody wanted to talk about Oregon having a natural resources-based economy,” he said.

“We’re an urban metro county but really only about 5 percent of our footprint is urban. Seventy-five percent of the land is forestland.”

“We want to lead the burgeoning cross-laminated timber industry by developing a supply-increasing pilot program,” he said, “that can spur rural Oregon economic development in an environmentally friendly manner.”

Hero 1