Workers at the family-owned and operated WoodEx mill in Edgewater have been in limbo for quite some time pending a long-term fibre supply agreement with forestry giant Canfor, but Columbia River-Revelstoke BC Liberal candidate Doug Clovechok said that after a concerted effort by himself and Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett, the two sides are closer to a deal than ever before.
“If everything goes the way we intended it to go, we’re going to see WoodEx back up and running shortly,” Clovechok said.
When Canfor completed its acquisition of Tembec Industries Ltd.’s Kootenay sawmills and associated Crown tenures in March of this year, Minister of Forests Steve Thomson stated Canfor would be required to negotiate a long-term timber supply agreement with WoodEx as to not unduly restrict competition in the area. Details on exactly how much fibre was to be supplied were apparently never finalized, however, as the initial amount they received was not enough to keep the mill running, said WoodEx president and CEO Douglas Riddell.
The WoodEx mill in Edgewater employs 60 workers directly and another 120 indirectly, and has been closed for several months as negotiations continue. For Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald, who has been instrumental in drawing attention to the issue since the mill was first forced to cut its number of shifts, the failure to reach an agreement to keep those workers employed falls directly on the shoulders of the Minister of Forests, Steve Thomson.
“What I have said from the beginning is that Minister Thomson had obligations during the sale (of Tembec) to do the work one would expect him to, to make sure that employment in our valley is retained,” Macdonald said. “We’ve gone through an extended disruption for WoodEx… my expectation is that we would try and get the most jobs that we can out of the public resource that we have, and that has to be the priority.”
The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations is encouraging Canfor and Woodex to continue to negotiate a fibre supply agreement, ministry spokesperson Brennan Clarke told The Valley Echo in an email.
“The ministry is hopeful that Canfor and Woodex are able to reach an agreement soon; however, it’s worth noting that Canfor isn’t the only potential source of fibre,” he said. “Woodex, as it has in the past, can also continue to bid on BC Timber Sales.”
Active negotiations between Canfor and Woodex are ongoing, and the ministry sees this as a positive direction, said Clarke. Riddell said WoodEx was hopeful Canfor would be willing to support smaller independent sawmills and “help maintain an open and healthy log market.”
When contacted for comment, a Canfor spokesperson said the company will not be addressing its relationship with WoodEx with the media at this time.
“We’re absolutely thrilled that Canfor is reopening the Radium mill and is putting money into the Canal Flats mill… to have both of those operations up and running for our valley is incredibly important and we’re grateful for that,” Clovechok said, who helped facilitate a meeting between Riddell and Thomson. “On the other hand, we want to make sure the smaller mills aren’t adversely affected… We certainly don’t want to get involved with negotiating a private enterprise deal, that’s not what government is there for, but what government is there for is to mediate.”