Houston Forest Products mill to close in spring

Families of 225 Houston employees will be affected; West Fraser to help employees find work

Late Thursday afternoon, West Fraser announced the shutdown of its Houston Forest Products mill operation and Canfor Corporation (Canfor) announced the closure of its Quesnel sawmill.

The Houston sawmill closure will affect 225 employees, and will be completed by spring 2014. The closure of the Quesnel mill will be completed in early spring, with 209 employees affected, although Canfor indicated those employees would be offered positions elsewhere in the company.

The decision to close the Houston operation is part of West Fraser’s Mountain Pine Beetle Plan, which includes exchanging forest licenses with Canfor to bolster the viability of other West Fraser operations.

“The mountain pine beetle devastation has and will continue to undermine the availability of merchantable timber in the interior of B.C.,” said Ted Seraphim, West Fraser president and chief executive officer. “The shutdown of our Houston mill has been a difficult decision and we will work closely with the affected employees to support them through this process.  Our first priority is to explore opportunities to transition Houston employees to one of our other operations and we will provide assistance in finding new employment.”

Significant upgrades and modernizations were also announced for West Fraser’s Smithers and 100 Mile House operations.  Whether or not those upgrades will result in more jobs is not yet clear. In total, $350 million in investments were announced by West Fraser, although some of those investment dollars had previously been announced.

West Fraser and Canfor exchanged forest licences in the Quesnel, Lakes, and Morice Timber Supply Areas (TSAs) to strengthen timber supply to remaining mills. Provincial approval of the exchanges is required.

The exchange of forest licenses and mill shutdowns are being blamed on the loss of timber supply following the mountain pine beetle epidemic.

“The timber availability in the Quesnel region following the mountain pine beetle infestation unfortunately leaves us unable to continue operation of our Quesnel sawmill,” said Canfor President and CEO Don Kayne.

In the north and central interior, West Fraser will maintain sawmills in Fraser Lake, Smithers and Quesnel. Canfor will continue to operate its sawmills in Houston, Vanderhoof, and Quesnel, as well as several locations in Northeast B.C.

Kayne added that the move may prevent further mill closures related to the mountain pine beetle.

“We want this to be the last mountain pine beetle closure we take at Canfor,” he said. “So we looked for a Quesnel operator who would be willing to exchange tenure in one of our other operating areas, allowing us to safeguard the future of another Canfor mill, in this case Houston.”

In Houston, within the next two weeks, West Fraser will begin a mill safety and worker retention program to keep the mill running smoothly until the spring shutdown. Dave Lehane, West Fraser vice president of woodlands, said the program will include bonuses to employees who remain with the mill until then.

“Our first priority was to communicate directly with our employees,” Lehane said. “Our second priority is now to ensure that the facility can operate safely into the spring.”

“We currently have 70 jobs on our internal job board, and we’re hiring at just about everyone of our locations,” Lehane added. “The real challenge is that employees may need to relocate. We will be working one-on-one with our employees in this difficult time.”

Houston Mayor Bill Holmberg found out about the mill closure only moments before the announcement was made public. Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad called him about half an hour before the announcement yesterday. Rustad is working with the community to develop a plan to deal with the terrible news.

“The biggest concern is the loss of 225 jobs in Houston,” Holmberg said. “You’re not going to fill that hole. We’ve got to figure out how to mitigate the downfall.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

Submitted
BC VOTES 2020: John Rustad re-elected in Nechako Lakes riding

The result is based on preliminary vote count and the final results will be available after Nov.6

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

The track washrooms will be opened up again next year in May. (Priyanka Ketkar photo/Lakes District News)
Toilets, sinks torn off, graffiti on walls at the Burns Lake track washroom

“Seems to happen once or twice a year” says the Village CAO on the vandalized track washroom

FILE - Nathan Cullen speaks to media in Smithers, B.C., Friday, February 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, Cullen apologize for Stikine candidate’s comments about Haida candidate

Nathan Cullen had made insensitive comments about Roy Jones Jr. Cheexial

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

RCMP stock photo (Black Press)
Charges laid against Prince George man, 39, in drug trafficking probe

Tyler Aaron Gelowitz is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 18

Most Read