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Senator Angus King asks federal government to consider mass timber in construction projects

The mass timber construction in the John and Lile Gibbons Center for Arctic Studies.
Carol Bousquet
Maine Public
The mass timber construction in the John and Lile Gibbons Center for Arctic Studies at Bowdoin College.

Senator Angus King is asking the General Services Administration to integrate mass timber into the procurement process for the construction and renovation of federal buildings.

Mass timber is engineered in layers, and King and other senators say the move would reduce the carbon footprint of federal buildings as well as reduce construction costs.

Maine is uniquely suited to host mass timber production, says Pat Straugh, Executive Director of the Maine Forest Products Council.

"I would say that what Angus is helping us to do is build the market and demand so we can get over the top and draw investment in Maine. We have plenty of wood, the right kind of materials and people kicking tires. We're just trying to get the market going so investments can be made," Straugh said.

Strauch says efforts are already underway to get mass timber in front of architects and construction companies and approved for building and fire codes.

Russell Edgar, Wood Composites Manager at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine, says King has advocated for mass timber for years.

"He had me come down several months ago to testify in front of one of his committees on the potential use of mass timber in Department of Defense buildings," Edgar said. "So he's, forgive the pun, barking up several trees in different areas to promote the use of mass timber in these federal buildings."

Edgar's colleague Dr. Habib Dagher, Director of the Composite Center, says the goal is to attract mass timber manufacturers to Maine.

"To start a new industry you need to create demand," Dagher said. "Maine tree species can compete with those used in other parts of the U.S. and Europe to make mass timber."

Ricky McClain, Senior Technical Director for Woodworks, says the federal government could advance the mass timber industry with its support.

"Number one, it would demonstrate the government's commitment to building in sustainable and lower embodied materials. By them doing those projects, it would raise awareness," McClain said, "It would, if you will, move the snowball effect of non-federal government projects using mass timber as well."

King's office says mass timber has seen growth in its use across the country, from a handful of buildings eight years ago to almost two thousand today. The forest products industry supports about 14,000 jobs across Maine.