The old story is about taking coal to Newcastle, but the twist that emerged yesterday was of building a sawmill in Everett. That could seem like a step back in time, because for...

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The old story is about taking coal to Newcastle, but the twist that emerged yesterday was of building a sawmill in Everett.

That could seem like a step back in time, because for nearly a century Everett was known for its sawmills.

So the proposal announced at a Port of Everett Commission meeting yesterday almost seemed like a path to the future through the past.

The proposal was made by Sierra Pacific Industries of Redding, Calif., one of the nation’s largest private landowners. It calls for building a computerized, state-of-the-art sawmill complex and an electrical co-generation plant on the site of a former Weyerhaeuser mill that was virtually the heart of Everett for decades.

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But the new mill won’t be much like the old one.

“We go from a mill to a mill,” said Eric Russell, Port director of properties. “But the mill Sierra Pacific is going to be putting in there is going to be a lot different than what was there.”

According to the letter of intent delivered to the Port, the mill would have more than 200 full-time employees and add 220 other jobs in the community, Russell said. It also would expand Everett’s property-tax base.

It would mean work for timber companies, loggers, truckers, equipment suppliers and parts-and-materials suppliers, Port officials said.

The complex is expected to cost $60 million to $100 million.

The commission is to vote on the proposal Feb. 1, Russell said. Construction could start this spring and finished in about 15 months, he said.

“The Port’s very pleased about it,” Russell said. “It’s an established company that provides full benefits.”

The announcement marks a substantial investment in the wood-products industry, said Butch Bernhardt, director of information services for the Western Wood Products Association, based in Portland. Only one major sawmill, a Sierra Pacific plant in Aberdeen, Grays Harbor County, has been built in Washington or Oregon in at least the past 10 years.

In 1987, at the peak year for lumber production in the 12 Western states, 702 mills were operating, Bernhardt said. Now there are 242.

Sierra Pacific runs 12 sawmills in California and the one in Aberdeen. It has about 3,600 employees and owns about 1.4 million acres in California.

Sierra Pacific spokesman Ed Bond said the Everett mill would resemble a modern factory, a kind of high-ceiling warehouse, with paved work areas and landscaping, and none of the old, soot-belching smokestacks that once characterized such mills.

He said it would probably draw much of its timber supply from logs now exported.

“The sawmills of today and what we’re proposing is nothing like the mill that was there,” Bond said.

He said Sierra Pacific expanded into Washington state in 2002, when it began operating the Aberdeen sawmill, then started looking for other expansion locations.

The Everett site “is just perfect for what we have in mind,” Bond said.

Production is expected to be about 300 million board feet annually, more capacity than any of Sierra Pacific’s California mills.

Weyerhaeuser’s mills were the virtual mainstay of the Everett economy for nearly a century. One official history of the city, compiled by the Everett Chamber of Commerce, notes the mill traced its origins to the founding of the city in 1893.

“A large mill … which was later converted to a Weyerhaeuser mill, fostered Everett’s reputation as a ‘milltown,’ reflecting the growing community’s huge logging and milling operations along the Snohomish River. The area continued to be dominated by the timber industry through the Great Depression,” the history noted.

The old mill was torn down by 1990; the Port acquired the property in 1998.

The site, between Interstate 5 and Highway 99, includes the 78 acres of uplands property, plus tidelands and small islands, which bring the total to about 160 acres, Russell said.

Peyton Whitely: 206-464-2259 or pwhitely@seattletimes.com