Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, left, addresses constituents during a town hall event on Saturday, April 15, 2023 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, left, addresses constituents during a town hall event on Saturday, April 15, 2023 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski senator’s bill ‘lumbers’ toward governor’s desk

Senate Bill 87 aims to make locally milled lumber more widely available for the construction of housing in Alaska

KENAI — Of the more than 320 bills introduced by Alaska lawmakers this year, only seven have passed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. One of them is sponsored by freshman Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski.

Bjorkman’s Senate Bill 87, which aims to make locally milled lumber more widely available for the construction of housing in Alaska, passed in the Alaska House on Monday. The legislation has already cleared the Senate.

The bill, if signed into law, would establish a free lumber grade training program through the Alaska Division of Forestry that would train mill operators to grade lumber. The one-day program would be offered at least once per year with the content, instruction qualifications and completion requirements determined by the division.

Successful completion of the program would allow participants to receive a grading certificate that would be good for five years. The bill would also allow the Alaska Division of Forestry to give certificates to people who either hold a current certification from an accredited grading agency or have a bachelor’s or postgraduate degree in forest products or equivalent degree.

Load-bearing dimensional lumber graded and certified as described by the bill can be used for one-, two- and three-family dwellings in Alaska. The bill requires that lumber be milled in a way that meets or exceeds the requirements of the applicable building code for the type of dwelling being built.

People who hold the kind of certificate made available in the bill can only grade lumber that they’ve milled and, if used to build dwellings, must sell directly to the building contractor, the owner of the dwelling or a person acting on behalf of either. Local inspectors authorized to examine a dwelling may restrict or reject the use of such lumber.

Among those who threw their support behind S.B. 87 are the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, the Alaska State Home Building Association, the Kuskokwim Corporation, Alaska environmental groups and individual timber and logging operations.

Dennis Linnell, a senior civil engineer with HDL Alaska in Kenai, said much of the Kenai Peninsula’s timber resources are used for firewood or are burned as slash, rather than being harvested for lumber.

“I can see an even bigger benefit to our rural communities off the road system where shipping dimensional lumber adds significant costs,” Linnell wrote. “Quality lumber produced by local businesses and used in their local communities is a WIN, WIN, WIN situation.”

The bill has also received bipartisan support from both chambers of the Alaska Legislature, including 11 senators and 18 representatives. The bill passed unanimously in the Alaska Senate last month and now heads to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s desk.

Bjorkman took to social media Monday to celebrate the bill’s advancement out of the Legislature.

“I believe that Alaskan homes should be Alaska grown,” Bjorkman wrote. “I look forward to the economic opportunities this will bring to sawmill operators on the Kenai Peninsula and across the state and am glad we will now have the option to build our homes with local lumber.”

More information about SB 87 can be found on the bill’s webpage at akleg.gov.

• Contact reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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