Following several meetings in Burns Lake last Friday, Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Minister Pat Bell and Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad said they have high hopes for the economic future of Burns Lake.
Bell is leading the charge with a rapid response team which is also comprised of local area First Nations and community stakeholders, to deal with the economic aftermath of the explosion and fire at Babine Forest Products on Jan. 20, 2012.
He said the province will be looking at all available options for a possible increase to the local area’s timber supply.
“Steve Zika, Hampton’s CEO [chief executive officer] has said the company would prefer to rebuild the mill, providing they have the fibre available to amortize their investment,” Bell said.
“We will be looking at the timber supply in a credible and responsible way and will have transparent disclosure of the [available] fibre supply in the region.”
Bell said the province is hoping to have a timber supply analysis completed within four to six weeks, at which time they will be able to give Hampton Affiliates a better idea of how much more timber may be available in the Lakes Timber Supply area.
However, he pointed out that the province will not sacrifice one mill for another.
“Fibre in the region will be managed appropriately,” he added.
Hampton Affiliates will retain their forest license under the Forestry Act and Bell said so far he has had positive discussions with company executives.
“They have not disclosed to us the minimum amount of fibre they are looking for and we have not disclosed what we think might be possible …. we also have to allow existing mills to operate in a viable manner.”
Bell also announced last Friday that forest industry veteran Bob Clark has relocated to Burns Lake to help with the issues surrounding Burns Lake’s economy.
He said Clark is the ‘beetle boss’ for the region and is the best man for the job.
He is vice president of forestry consultants J.B. Clark and Co. and has been recruited to lead the provincial government’s on the ground economic response efforts.
He will be working out of Burns Lake indefinitely.
He will be the main point of contact for the province and will help with the development of short and long term economic development strategies between the community and the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation.
Clark has served as the district forest manager for the Vanderhoof Forest District, headed the province’s mountain pine beetle response and chaired the Nechako Kitimaat Development Fund Society.
Bell and Rustad also discussed ways in which the province will be helping to find work for the approximate 250 displaced mill employees.
He said the task force is tracking down short term jobs at mills and at the Endako and Huckleberry mines, as well as examining some possible transportation options to help those that secure jobs in neighbouring communities to live in Burns Lake, but commute to work. He said exact details of the plan are still being figured out.
Bell said he has relevant experience in dealing with a similar situation in the community of MacKenzie after the mill in that community shut down and said he doesn’t think people in Burns Lake will have to sell their homes and relocate to other communities for work.
“We want stability for the community. Finding short term employment for displaced employees will be the first focus of the task force.”
It’s short term jobs they are looking for, because Bell said he is optimistic that Babine Forest Products will eventually reopen.
To also help provide jobs, Rustad said he is in the process of organizing a jobs fair in Burns Lake in the coming weeks, at which, employers and those seeking work will be able to connect, but he added that no dates have been set for the jobs fair at this time.
“It is critical that we provide some direction and hope to the community.”
“While the community is still grieving and coming to terms with the loss of life, community leaders are pulling together. I believe, having worked in the forest industry for many years, that there is a lot of options out there. I am confident that we can find fibre and have a facility up and running again and that we will continue to see forestry in this area in the future,” Rustad said, adding that if the mill is to be rebuilt, he can’t see any reason why it would have to be a smaller operation.
“There is a robust amount of fibre in the area,” he said. Both politicians said that there should also be a plan in place to diversify Burns Lake’s economy and Rustad put an emphasis on bio energy. He said Burns Lake could still have a forest based future, it would just be on a different playing field.