EMPORIUM — On Wednesday, officials of Lyme Timber Company offered a tour of the newly-refurbished Emporium Hardwoods operation on Route 120 south of Emporium.

The tour was the third of three events held in Cameron, Potter and McKean counties highlighting Lyme Timber Company’s recent, significant investments in northcentral Pennsylvania, including the purchase of more than 60,000 acres of timberland and monetary investments in related companies in the region.

The Emporium Hardwoods location currently boasts the most technologically-advanced sawmill operation in the United States. Following a devastating fire in 2017 that did millions of dollars in damages, the mill was completely renovated and reconstructed.

Mill owner Ted Rossi “chose to rebuild with state-of-the-art design and technology, creating a nationally acclaimed mill,” according to information released by Lyme Timber. During the reconstruction, employees were kept on, training as lumber graders and in other positions, and learning new skills while helping to construct the buildings and infrastructure for the new facility.

The new mill is a multi-story operation, with many workers in climate-controlled pods operating machinery through a computer system. It is quite unlike the sawmills that have been built and used in the region throughout history. It is clean, modern and efficient, with lasers measuring to make precision cuts and leaving as little waste behind as possible.

Nothing is actually wasted, as all parts of the logs are sold — boards, bark, chips and sawdust, according to mill manager Patrick Narby, who served as a tour guide during the event.

As the logs are dropped off in the log yard, each one is tagged with a barcode that is then scanned. Each log can be tracked, beginning with who dropped it off and continuing all the way through the mill until it exits the other end as a finished board.

The mill processes between 25 and 35 truckloads of wood per day, and logs are harvested within a 50-100 mile radius from Emporium Hardwoods.

The mill was built vertically, making it easier to keep areas cleaned out and eliminating buildup of sawdust and wood chips, which can be a fire hazard.

Following the completion of the new mill, Lyme Timber Company, named after the town in New Hampshire where it was founded in 1976, made a significant minority investment in the company following the purchase of approximately 65,000 acres of land in north central Pennsylvania.

The majority of the land purchased by Lyme is in Potter, Cameron and McKean counties, with smaller tracts in Venango, Elk, Erie, Warren, Clinton and Jefferson counties. The properties were formerly owned by the Hammermill Paper Company, which held over 150,000 acres of forest filled with high-quality hardwood timber, including black cherry, sugar maple, red maple, ash and red oak.

Lyme has also established Three Rivers Forest Management, based in Coudersport, to oversee the Pennsylvania acreage, and invested in Northern Appalachia Log and Forestry (NALF), a log marketing and export business based in Coudersport.

Lyme received a $50 million loan to finance the land acquisition through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST), which offers lower-interest loans with favorable terms. In return, Lyme has provided a Working Forest Conservation Easement of more than 9,000 acres in the Sterling Run area of Cameron County that can be used for recreational purposes that do not damage the forestland, with an offer of an additional 50,000 acres available for easement purchase by the state. In addition, $750,000 has been pledged for remediation work on streams with acid mine drainage (AMD) contamination in the Sterling Run area. In total, Lyme Timber Company owns and manages over 750,000 acres of timberland in Pennsylvania, California, Florida, New York, Tennessee and West Virginia.

“PENNVEST’s loan secured immediate local clean water benefits and created the opportunity to realize more significant clean water benefits in the future through the purchase of working forest conservation easements,” according to Lyme representatives.

“Through its timberland ownership, and related investments in Three Rivers, Emporium Hardwoods and NALF, Lyme-related businesses are providing over 110 quality direct jobs in the forest products industry,” according to a Lyme release. “To meet our sustainable harvest objectives, we expect to grow the Three Rivers team, add logging contractors, and support the continued growth of the businesses in which we have invested.”

Emporium Hardwoods is one of Cameron County’s top employers, with nearly 100 employees currently. Pennsylvania is the largest single state producer of American hardwood lumber in the United States. Logging was one of the first major industries in north central Pennsylvania, and is an important part of regional history and culture.