The special committee on timber supply meetings that were held across the province wrapped up earlier this month, but not before Hampton Affiliates made a second submission to the committee during a July 11, 2012, meeting in Vancouver.
Both Steve Zika, Hampton Affiliates chief executive officer and Richard Vossen, Babine Forest Products woods manager addressed the committee and presented preliminary independent report findings on timber supply to the committee.
Zika also presented to the committee signatures of 1,700 people in the local community that signed a petition supporting the rebuilding of the sawmill.
As reported in the Lakes District News edition of June 27, 2012, Vossen said the company was in the process of completing an independent report into the timber supply issues that will determine a rebuild of the mill, which was completely destroyed by a Jan. 20, 2012 explosion and fire.
“We’ve hired an independent consultant that will do our own timber supply analysis for the lakes timber supply area. We question some of the numbers of the chief forester and we’d like to verify them … we’d like to see where the differences are,” Vossen said.
During the July 11, 2012, Vancouver meeting Zika said, “If we don’t begin construction of a new sawmill soon, I fear for the effects on the community and our business. Burns Lake isn’t Vancouver or Prince George; it’s a small community. Babine is by far the economic engine there.”
He said the mid-term timber supply could be increased from the base of 500,000 to a million cubic metres. “We are confident of that.”
Zika said the committee will not be able to solve all the pine beetle issues with one process and one report.
“Legislation will be required, similar to what has been done for other communities such as Mackenzie. The legislation should authorize the area licence conversion, along with new First Nations licences. Your report should also encourage the Minister of Forests to find other replacement licence volume for our big competitors, near their many other sawmills in the province and should emphasize a district-by-district approach. What is applicable in one area does not work for other areas. Additional time for analyzing timber supply in each district should be taken, with input from
professional local foresters, First Nations and community leaders. The management regime in each district will be different, based on the health of the forest and other societal values as well,” he said.
I’ve been there in similar situations on many occasions where we sat across from families who lost their jobs as a result of mill closures, so my heart is with you. But I think the situation here is twofold. When we were traveling in that region I did not find very many operators with 100 percent AAC attached to their mills or to feed their capacity. It seems to me that the 450,000 that you have pretty well comes to about 50 percent of your need.
Committee member Harry Bains, MLA for Surrey-Newton said, “If other operators can operate with 40 percent, 20 percent or 30 percent of timber supply available to them, why can’t you? If you stop timber leaving the Lakes timber supply area, what impact will it have on the other communities and other sawmills, which they actually rely on today?”
Zika said, “The only other major license holder is West Fraser. Canfor and L & M Lumber have very small licenses, so it’s really West Fraser. There’s a possibility that maybe the Fraser Lake sawmill would lose a shift. Yes, we have 450,000 licensed today, but if truly the volume goes down in the future to 500,000 and you go in more of a traditional way that they’ve done in the past, they’re going to cut everybody, and that 450 is going to drop to 200 or less. You have to remember that the Lakes District is very small. Prince George is a massive timber supply area. They’ve got opportunities to go North to Fort St. James. They can go Northwest. They’re all still in the Prince George region. In the Lakes District we don’t have that opportunity. The road systems aren’t set up. We can’t compete in that same area and in theory, our license isn’t in that area. So they’re going to have a natural advantage over us by doing that. We’re just asking you to give us a shot. We have to make a new investment. Insurance will cover some of it, but you’re asking us as a private, family company to make another significant investment beyond insurance. You have to have some kind of security to know that there isn’t just this cliff at the end, that all of a sudden you’re going to be left with very, very little,” Zika added.
Vossen agreed and said the Lakes timber supply area is probably the smallest timber supply area in the interior. “It is also the timber supply area that has probably has the highest liquidation of pine taken out of it to support the communities to the East and West,” he added.
Zika said, “For the last couple of years we’ve talked about amalgamating timber supply areas to make them a big timber supply area. Nobody wanted to do that because they already have theirs …. Canfor and West Fraser. They have all the money. They have all the licences. Of course they don’t want to share. They came into the Lakes District, took the timber out. From a business standpoint, why would they want to change anything?”
Zika added, “The biggest by far is West Fraser. It has 340,000 metres today in the Lakes District, and they have about 10 or 15 sawmills in the province. I’m not saying take away the volume, just transferring it to other areas. There’s no reason they can’t get some additional tenure up in the Fort St. James area.
Zika said if the rebuild happens the new mill will be state of the art with three or four special dust systems to capture dust.
“Basically, almost all the mills up North now are doing the best they can. We’re making a really good effort, and the industry is, to mitigate dust. There will be a little bit of labour reduction within the sawmill itself, but you’re still going to need people for maintenance and cleanup and all those kind of things … It’ll be about two-thirds the size … that’s what we’re hoping the timber will support.”
The committee will issue a report on Aug. 15, 2012, to the Legislative Assembly recommending ways in which the mid-term timber supply in the central interior can be increased.