MOOSE RIVER (AP) – The largest dimension lumber mill in Maine has laid off 18 of its 85 employees as it struggles to compete in a market glutted with imports from western Canada.

Moose River Lumber Co., which makes two-by-fours and other lumber used in house construction, has been losing $150,000 to $200,000 a month since January, said sales manager Seve Banahan. To compete, the company has to cut costs, he said.

“They’re burying us in wood. What’s happened is, we’re bleeding so much a month and we have to tighten our belt,” Banahan said.

Moose River, a computerized high-tech sawmill outside of Jackman in western Maine, is capable of producing 80 million board feet a year. It is northern Somerset County’s largest employer.

Banahan said he hopes the layoffs will be temporary and that the workers will be called back in six to eight weeks. Whether that happens depends on if the lumber supply shrinks and prices increase.

Banahan blamed the glut, and accompanying low prices, on production increases by several large mills in British Columbia, even as the United States collects duties on Canadian lumber coming into the country. He said some Canadian mills are running nonstop seven days a week.

Moose River Lumber is getting $280 per 1,000 board feet for high-grade, random-length two-by-fours delivered to Boston, Banahan said. That’s $70 less than the price of a year ago.

“These are just atrocious prices,” he said.

He said the layoffs doesn’t solve the problem, but serve only as a stopgap measure.

“That by no means gets us out of the woods. That just buys us another month or two to hope that the market comes back,” he said. “Our log costs aren’t going down, they’re going up.”

AP-ES-05-02-03 1144EDT

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