The Radium sawmill closed in May of 2009.

The Radium sawmill closed in May of 2009.

Radium sawmill to reopen

Canfor has announced a $38.5 million investment in the Radium sawmill.

Rumours have been flying for months, but on April 26 Canfor confirmed that the Radium Sawmill will reopen later this year.

A total of $38.5 million is to be invested in the mill beginning in May 2012, and funding will cover construction of a new planer facility, the installation of a biomass energy system and modifications to the existing sawmill. The mill is expected to reopen sometime in the fall or winter. Also included is the news that a further $1.5 million will be spent to improve drying capacity at the Canal Flats mill, acquired by Canfor from Tembec in November 2011.

“These investments are critical to support the restart of our Radium division, which was indefinitely closed in May 2009,” Don Kayne, Canfor President and CEO said in a release. “The fibre in the Kootenay region is amongst the best in the world, and these investments will secure our ability to make top-quality products  here to supply global markets.”

Village of Radium Hot Springs mayor Dee Conklin said she wasn’t necessarily surprised by the news, because of all the rumours that had been flying around as of late, but said she was always hopeful that the mill would reopen.

“We’ve been terribly optimistic over the last little while, there have been so many rumours on the streets, that you hoped — and we kept hoping with fingers crossed — that it was true,” Conklin said. “It’s absolutely fantastic not only for our community, but for the whole valley.”

The mill first closed in May 2009 as a result of a market downturn. The announcement also follows news in March that Canfor had plans to invest $50 million in the region, without specifying which facility would benefit. At the time, Canfor Director of Public Affairs & Corporate Communications Christine Kennedy said that a key issue with the Radium sawmill had to do with the use of propane to heat the dry kilns, and estimated that due to the high cost of propane, those costs accounted for about 20 per cent of the mill’s operational costs.

“One of the key things in looking at Radium, as far as a potential capital investment site, is a wood residual energy system,” Kennedy said in March. “That would be an absolutely necessary part of making that mill viable.”

At the time of the mill closing, it employed roughly 170 people on site, however at this time it’s not clear if Canfor expects similar employment numbers. Conklin says, though, that one of the major differences from when the mill closed is that Radium now has the needed housing to hopefully support more sawmill employees. She estimates that only about 30 of the 170-odd mill employees lived in Radium at that time, and is hopeful that the number will increase.

“That’s going to be a big difference for us because not only will they be working in Radium, hopefully they will also be living in Radium, and that is a huge thing for us,” Conklin said. “We’ll be welcoming them with open arms.”

Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald also says that the news of Canfor investing in the Radium mill is great for the valley, and expects to see a definite economic boost for the area.

“The closure of the Radium sawmill had a very detrimental effect on the economy in the Columbia Valley, and it has been a long haul as Radium millworkers have struggled to find other employment,” Macdonald said. “Canfor’s announcement that it intends to reopen Radium mill is very good news, and it will be a significant economic boost to the area.”

“At this stage, there is very little detail other than that it is a huge investment, so you know that they are considering this for the long term, and that’s good for us,” Conklin added. “We have an excellent working relationship with Canfor and we know it’s going to continue now that they are coming back.”