By: Liz Brown, Chetwynd Echo
CHETWYND – At last month’s council meeting, Tembec gave an overview of their mill practices, cut block areas and logging plans.
While the mill’s future hangs in the balance, public and council members wanted the million-dollar question answered: is the mill shutting down? Is it closing forever?
“For me, it wasn’t anything of particular value because is Tembec going to ever log again? We have no idea,” said Mayor Merlin Nichols last week. “It’s nice to have logging plans, but when are we going to put them into practice? That really is the important point and they don’t have an answer. They don’t know what the price is going to be.”
Instead, fibre procurement superintendent Doug Braybrook was asked to represent Tembec. In turn, council, public and press were directed by Tembec not to ask any questions surrounding the future of the mill.
“Got a call from Tembec. They said no questions as to whether Tembec is closing or not,” said Nichols who was advised not to put Braybrook “on the spot.”
Braybrook, who is a registered professional forester, had the difficult task of skirting around the hot topic and engaging listeners with Tembec’s cut block locations and pulp and paper procedures.
In the meantime, Coun. Don Harris took the opportunity to thank Tembec for adhering to a public request towards preserving a certain land area.
Following the thanks, Nichols requested a certain land mass be protected from logging. He received a call earlier this month from Norm Sawchuck requesting a potential cut block be protected for wildlife habitat.
“Tembec has a cut block that takes everything around. Right in here is Sandy Lake; this is Jackfish Lake, Half Moon Lake,” said Nichols, pointing to a map. “It’s very pretty. And you get out in there and you feel like you’re in a remote area. You ride your bikes through there. It’s probably about maybe six, seven miles the trail from here across.”
The area described is a recreation trail, which used to be the former road connecting Chetwynd to Moberly Lake prior to Highway 29.
“We want to protect that area because once it’s clear cut it won’t be good for recreation any more or water fowl,” said Sawchuck.
Not only has Sawchuck been trapping in the area for nearly 40 years, but the land is also a current wet area for birds and wildlife.
“The swans use it with the other lakes adjacent to it,” he said, adding Tembec had cut blocks set right beside his marten boxes.
Other concerned community members walked out to the site and took photos of the area, and then wrote a letter about a month ago requesting the area be protected.
When approached, “Tembec wasn’t very committal,” said Nichols. “I mean, I understand they’re there to cut trees, not to ensure parkland or anything.”
However, according to Braybrook, opportunities to request land protection have come and gone. The last public participation meeting occurred in 2009 and Braybrook said the public seemed to have little interest in participating. The next meeting will be held in spring 2013, should the mill still exist. At that time, the public can bring requests to Tembec.
“As a forest company, we can’t preserve an area,” said Braybrook, who explained that the public must go to the government with a proposed area. “We could say OK, no we won’t log,” said Braybrook, “but that doesn’t stop another company from showing up and logging,” he said.
Only half of Tembec’s land is available for logging and the other half is off limits, either for protected areas, visual qualities, highway corridors or old growth forest management, which comprises 10 per cent of their forests, said Braybrook.
Regardless of time periods, Nichols said it was still worth bringing up at council.
“I think it should be important to Chetwynd too because you know, it’s only 10 minutes out of town and there it is.”
Tembec staff have a saying, explained Braybrook and mill manager Wayne Clement: NIMBY, standing for Not In My Back Yard.
“Nobody likes it in their back yard,” said Clement. “It’s a common term when you’re referring to any kind of resources. People like to see mining but not if it’s close to their farmland. Same as logging; fine until it happens to be on the hill across from your home.”
Clement says there are public benefits to logging.
“For hunters, moose will graze on new growth. People have access to areas you didn’t have access to before,” he said. “As a company and a saw mill operating in the area, we listen to the requests and try to be as open-minded as we can.”
Later that week, Nichols spoke with Clement in search of more information.
“It’s all dependent on the price and they shut down their logging so that when these logs are processed, that’s it,” he said. “And if the price doesn’t rebound, the mill won’t rebound. It’s unfortunate, but that might save these trees. That’s what I felt right now; they’re not logging anyways, so it’s a good point and they may never log again, who knows.
“They’ve been a good corporate citizen. I appreciate their business here, but it’s too bad to see them shut down.”
In Clement’s mind, the market is taking a positive turn.
“Generally all pulp prices is looking like it’s going up. That’s encouraging, he said.
Tembec announced pricing increase for January and February. But currently there is a demand for the product. Since March, South America’s eucalyptus pricing is beginning to increase, as well as the hardwood kraft mills.
One of the most significant issues that Chetwynd faced was a pricing increase to the extent they cannot cover manufacturing costs, and yet they are the largest producer of high yield pulp.
Clement arrived from Temiscaming to Chetwynd in 2002 and is no stranger to difficult times. Tembec experienced a crisis in 2009, but for different reasons.
“It was really a market issue in terms of volume; just too much inventory out there,” said Clement.
At first Clement anticipated being down for one to three months, but they stayed closed for almost a year.
“It wasn’t the market was ugly anymore, the economy had nose dived and we were included in that dive.”
Currently, they are waiting on March prices and looking at ways to lower in-house costs. They are also using any down time that may occur for maintenance and repairs. They have been ordering equipment, â€œgetting stuff ready on standby,â€ said Clement.
Tembecâ€™s biggest cost, says Clement, is the electricity bill. When BCâ€ˆHydro is finished setting the demand rate, Clement says Tembec will experience a seven to eight per cent increase.
Tembecâ€™s monthly hydro bill is approximately $1.8 million.
â€œItâ€™s a pretty significant cost to our manufacturing,â€ said Clement. â€œItâ€™s kind of a wait and see type of game but what weâ€™re planning is that if we end up where everything is positive out there, then we need to obviously look at how do we start getting fibre back into the mill.â€
Employee numbers are also a bit low as people are sick, said Clement.
â€œItâ€™s challenge always to keep people in that area,â€ he said regarding steam and recovery.
He says itâ€™s a very marketable area. But even with an uncertain future, Tembec has been hiring employees in the last month. Tembec has two new staff starting this week and three are en route from Vancouver.
â€œWe havenâ€™t stopped hiring,â€ said Clement. â€œWe havenâ€™t said weâ€™re out of business. Weâ€™re saying itâ€™s extremely challenging.â€
â€œEmployees would like a more concrete answer when things are still shaky out there but I believe the majority of them value the work place and the type of work that theyâ€™ve done and are prepared to sit tight and kind of weather the storm.â€
Clement says they are doing everything they can to keep the mill running.
â€œWe are positive and we are going to stay positive. Itâ€™s another storm to weather and there will be more in the future,â€ he concluded.