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Canfor includes province in decision to replace mill

Company board meets July 27 to review extensive analysis

Canfor is including the provincial government in its detailed analysis of whether it will spend the money to replace its idled sawmill here or not.

In a statement released last week, Canfor official Michelle Ward said the company needs to understand how much wood the province believes will be available.

“Ensuring we will have access to an adequate supply of fibre to support an investment of this magnitude is a key requirement for the project to advance,” she said.

An uncertain fibre supply and high logging costs were cited among the reasons the company gave in January when it announced the mill would close the end of April.

At the time, Canfor said it wanted to replace the mill here with one producing “high value products”.

Ward said Canfor was also speaking with local First Nations about their interest in what she described as “partnership opportunities.”

That follows earlier statements made by another Canfor official, Kevin Horsnell, the company’s senior vice-president of Canadian operations, who said economic agreements with First Nations could include buying fibre.

And that would come from back bids by First Nations to acquire their own fibre supplies from the province.

Ward said a package of information will be ready for company directors when the Canfor board meets July 27.

“We are making good progress on our internal work on the business case to redevelop our Houston facility,” she said.

“The business case includes preliminary engineering, a detailed financial analysis and an evaluation of the availability of economic fibre in the region.”

Meanwhile, a District of Houston a needs assessment report based on a survey of affected workers indicates the mill employed 284 hourly workers and 50 staffers at the end of February for a total of 334 persons.

Of that total, using figures supplied by Canfor, 78 per cent counted Houston as their home with seven per cent living in Smithers, six per cent lived in Telkwa, four per cent in Topley and two per cent in Granisle as the next significant home locations.

Canfor’s final staffing figure provided as of the end of March was 258. That’s because people started leaving after the closure announcement was made in late January.

Canfor is keeping 10 hourly employees on care and maintenance of the mill as well as seven staffers.

Its 20-person woodlands component is being kept employed because the company intends to keep logging and selling wood under licence.

The District of Houston survey was filled out by 133 people and showed a “significant state of uncertainty” while awaiting Canfor’s decision on rebuilding or not.

Other selected findings:

- an estimated 30 per cent of respondents have been laid off before when Houston Forest Products closed in 2014 or when the Huckleberry mine closed in 2016.

- nearly one-quarter of affected households have two or more family members unemployed.

- Approximately 18 per cent of respondents hold a trade certification or are pursuing one through an apprenticeship program. Canfor will pay a living away allowance and for books and tuition for its apprentices who continue to attend trades school during a layoff.

- the top five immediate needs from respondents are information on potential jobs, resume preparation assistance, information on training for a new occupation, computer skills and help with applying for jobs online.

- nearly one-quarter of respondents are contemplating leaving while 50 per cent said they would commute if the distance was 100 kilometres or less and 45 per cent said they’d be open to working in a camp setting.

- more than three-quarters of respondents reported moderate to high stress levels due to job uncertainty while 48 per cent said it affect the mental health of their families.

- just over three-quarters of respondents said job uncertainty also affected their financial security.

About the Author: Rod Link

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