Carving Out a Rugged Road
By Sandra Tice
This Vancouver Island entrepreneur helped create a logging and roadbuilding business with integrity at the core.
By Sandra Tice
Catching up with British Columbia logger Don Banasky is no easy task as he enthusiastically proclaims, “It’s smokin’ busy right now!” However, he adds, “that’s just the way I like it.”
The Nanaimo, B.C.-born Banasky fell into his current logging career as a youngster, when following school, he began setting chokers as a 22-year-old for Timberwest’s Nanaimo Lakes Division. “I decided early on that working in the woods was an enjoyable, action-packed career that I wanted to be part of,” he says.
Banasky moved through the ranks very quickly as a chokerman, rigging slinger, and then as a hooktender on equipment that included 90-foot Tower, Madill 044 and 124 grapple yarders. From there, he learned to run mechanical log processors. Within just a couple of years, Banasky started up his own logging consulting business, working primarily for Weyerhaeuser’s Northwest Bay Division where he trained processor operators and consulted on mechanical harvesting systems. He did all of this while still working for Timberwest on the day shift. From 2000-2002, he alternated day- and nighttime shifts with a variety of consulting, training, and logging systems development projects that included working for Western Forest Products (WFP) as well as other contractors on Vancouver Island and the coast of British Columbia.
By 2002, Banasky began consulting for a Vancouver Island business – a well-known roadbuilding (civil and logging roads) company owned by Gregson Holdings Inc. and the Gregson family. The path seemed clear that the next phase for Banasky’s business would be to partner up with the Gregsons, combining his own mechanical log processing expertise as a complement to the roadbuilding crew that owner Bryan Gregson had already established.
Today, at just 40 years old, Banasky sees Copcan Contracting and FallTech in high demand, as they provide mechanical harvesting and roadbuilding services up and down the coast of B.C.
They currently operate Copcan Contracting and FallTech Logging as part of the Gregson Group, providing stump to dump services for many licensees and contractors on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. The Gregson Group (Bryan, Dave and John Gregson), purchased 100 per cent of FallTech Logging in 2011, and Banasky is currently providing consulting and management services to both FallTech and Copcan in many locations on Vancouver Island. Banasky and Gregson work together on strategic planning, project management, budgeting, estimating, human resources and safety issues.
FallTech Logging Ltd.’s first joint venture involved the purchase of a brand new 2250 Madill tilting harvesting machine with a 24-inch Waratah processing head. With that purchase, the business partnership was off to a running start, which soon expanded to ownership of eight units. They ran 15 shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week at their peak.
Their many projects include work for the Khowutzun Forest Service, an area managed by the Khowutzun tribes in Duncan, as well as the Snuneymuxw First Nation projects, on their traditional territory in Nanaimo. Small woodlot licensees have hired their services in small communities such as Mill Bay, Port Alberni and Lantzville – all in British Columbia.
“In addition, our phase contracting is provided to a variety of clients, including Island Timberlands of Parksville, Mount Sicker Lumber in Duncan, R&B Falling in Port Alice, WFP’s many island operations, Timberwest of Nanaimo, Dorman group on both Vancouver island and the mainland’s Hemlock Valley, and Dyer Logging of Sayward. We also provide full logging road services to Island Timberlands, Timberwest and WFP on Vancouver Island from Port Hardy to Victoria. Most of our work is awarded through a competitive bid process and not limited to major licensees,” Banasky says.
Copcan Contracting also has civil construction, bridge-building and aggregate sales departments located throughout British Columbia and the Yukon.
Volumes of Logging
Logging volumes have declined since 2007, due to reduced demand for logs. From 2002 to 2007, Copcan logged approximately 100,000 m3 to 200,000 m3 a year. FallTech Logging’s phase activities, of mechanically falling and mechanically processing – from Victoria to Vanderhoof, were estimated to be more than one million m3 annually.
“Since the downturn in the economy, Copcan and FallTech have refocused their efforts on working for quality customers who we feel operate with integrity,” Banasky says. “This provides us with the opportunity to maximize values for the customers, while operating our business profitably and with the confidence that we will receive timely payment of invoices. In the past, we found that working for so many clients in so many locations created challenges in obtaining payments in full on many occasions. Our new business model is supplying us with stump to dump activities of around 40,000 m3 annually for Copcan and phase projects of around 400,000 m3 to 500,000 m3. The logging road activity has picked up and we are really focusing on re-establishing our Copcan roots on the roadbuilding side of things. We are pushing to have a competitive logging roadbuilding division which provides safe, quality and timely roadbuilding services in any location, and under any conditions,” Banasky says.
According to Banasky, Madill has provided a great complement of equipment for FallTech Logging over the years. “Although we only have three pieces of Madill equipment, it is the preferred gear for the operators and the feasibility still shines, as they are simple to operate, and are reliable and rebuildable,” he says. “John Deere has also been a good supplier to us and has provided us with excellent equipment and support.”
Banasky says FallTech decided to purchase the 2250 Madill because it was the most advanced technology at the time. “It was built locally, and built tough. It was the only available machinery of interest at the time, with a levelling cab.
“Bryan (Gregson) also has an ongoing love for Madill products, as he has worked with Madills for years and is completely familiar with the brand and what they stand for,” Banasky adds.
The latest piece purchased by the group is a 2012 Madill 2850 log loader with a 2012 624C Waratah processing head. “We acquired this unit a few months ago and it is bringing increased productivity, uptime, technology and a great balance to our machine complement. It has been a great choice for our operations,” Banasky says.
Yarding and Skidding
“We are yarding full-length logs to roadside and then manufacturing to specific lengths, sorts and quality, based on customer demands,” explains Banasky. “The logs are being skidded with a John Deere 748 G-3 Skidder when possible and the skidder brings a lot of efficiencies to a project and does not make a mess of the ground, contrary to what some people’s perception is.” When done properly in 2012, skidding is very easy on the environment, says Banasky. “We also hoe chuck with log loaders in steeper terrain or sensitive areas. We utilize 624 Waratah processing heads at or near roadside to process all of the timber to length. We do all of the pure load sorting at the road side during the processing phase.”
The combined companies within the Gregson group have up to 140 employees and contractors, depending on the time of year and workload. Although Banasky says business has been slow since the downturn, he adds there has been a noticeable increase in demand for most services in 2012.
“The company’s staffing levels always fluctuate based on demand.” he explains, “After years of double-shifting, we tend to try to minimize it now, but we will and have double-shifted recently due to workload, schedules and customer demands. Typically we operate one shift daily; however, it’s very common for us to run seven days a week, if required.”
Banasky adds that they have always contracted out the trucking for their logging activities. “Whether it is self-loading logging trucks or straight trucks, we contract it out. We do provide our own and outside lowbedding services though.”
The present emphasis for Copcan Contracting is on increasing its volume of roadbuilding on the logging side. “The logging companies pulled back on contracts during the downturn and with unstable markets and other challenges they are still only building roads to access timber in the immediate plan.” According to Banasky, the company is currently building approximately 20 kilometres a year of new logging roads.
“We plan to grow this number in the latter part of 2012 and into 2013. With our revised business model, knowledge, management team and workforce complement, we will be able to be competitive and profitable into the future,” Banasky says.
Logging roadbuilding equipment used by Copcan includes a variety of gear such as Hitachi, John Deere and Komatzu excavators, Volvo articulating rock trucks, and M-40 rock drills from various manufacturers. Of course, some of the equipment does double duty, working on logging roads and civil highway construction projects.
Just a few short kilometres from Vancouver Island’s second largest city, Nanaimo, is where Copcan and FallTech’s main office is located. The site also includes a large shop facility, which provides easily accessible servicing and regular maintenance for their full fleet of equipment. Seventeen mechanics and three welders handle all of the logging equipment and the roadbuilding equipment for both companies (logging roads and civil road construction). They also maintain a fleet of six mobile service units, making repairs possible wherever they are needed.
Banasky sees their biggest challenge as maintaining a consistent workforce. “For us, it appears that the most reliable workers are 50-70 years old,” he explains. “Some younger employees create challenges for us related to stability. This industry is a hardworking environment, and one that encourages people to be self-motivated. I feel we will struggle to acquire and maintain a steady group of qualified, safe, productive employees over the next few years, but I am hopeful we can lure back some of the men and women who have left the forest industry for a life in the oil patch. I think some of those people will come back, as the oil patch may offer big dollars, but for many, I like to think the forest is in their blood. It is an enjoyable, beautiful place to work. There is never a boring minute and an employee can earn a handsome wage.”
Despite the challenges of the past few years, Banasky is optimistic about the logging business when looking forward. “The future is always unknown and unpredictable,” he says. “But I look forward to creating profitable opportunities for our companies while maintaining a safe workplace that will provide our workers with stability. This will in turn provide us with the platform we need to plan, develop and modify our processes as needed to compete in today’s market, while maintaining the integrity of the business. I really hope the licensees of the timber see the value of building long-term relationships with reputable companies like ours to ensure maximum value for their timber. We know from experience that the cheapest rate is not always the way to go and that having a steady and consistent working relationship can be beneficial for everyone in the long term.”
When asked what drives Copcan and FallTech in their success, Banasky doesn’t hesitate in answering. “It all comes down to operating with integrity in everything we do,” he explains. “The Gregson family and the management team are honest and transparent and all aspects of the operations are completed safely and properly. Shortcuts are not an option in our group and safety and environmental protection are top priorities for us. We also encourage and promote open communication between owners, managers, employees and customers. Our decision-making process includes input from all involved parties and we listen to each other and operate with respect, admiration and a sense of equality. It’s a philosophy that has worked well for us in the past and we see it working well for us as we move forward.”