AFR: Back in 2008 the AbitibiBowater paper company was in trouble, facing bankruptcy. The company tried to save itself by downsizing, and with the help of its workers tried to keep afloat. Grand Falls-Windsor was one of its mills. Except for the mill there would never be a town there, the same as Twillingate would not be there without the fishery. The mill union in Grand Falls-Windsor played hardball and was not willing to make sacrifices, although this mill had provided good paying jobs for close to 100 years. Our premier at that time, Danny Williams, did not help when he publicly stated the quicker that we see the back of their heads the better – not a good statement from a premier with hundreds of jobs at stake. The union called what they thought was a bluff, and lost. AbitibiBowater is still alive (now Resolute Forest Products), but it closed the mill in Grand Falls-Windsor. It cost too much to operate, and the company could not make a profit.
The premier, without putting much thought into it, decided to expropriate the timber rights and the water rights. They ended up with timber rights that were due to expire in a couple months and go back to the Crown on Dec. 31 of that year, and they ended up with a couple of power plants, one partly owned by Fortis, a large corporation – what for, I don’t know. They would have to sell the power to us at the going rate. The only thing we really gained was a mill that nobody wanted and another huge cost to dismantle and clean up – the biggest Newfie joke of all time.
For years the government has been trying to get someone to operate that mill, to no avail. Now I understand they are about to do a deal with a company outside of Canada to operate a wood pellet plant in Central, and we may have to put a great deal of our money into it. I have a great concern for this deal and what it could do to our forests. I spent seven years working in a sawmill, 11 years as a member of Corner Brook Pulp and Paper public advisory committee, and 16 years as a member of the District 9 forestry five-year planning committee.
We have one paper mill left in Corner Brook, which I believe is on sound footing. We have four large integrated sawmills: one in Roddickton, operated by Ted Lewis; one in Hampden, operated by the Osmond Family; Cottles Island Lumber, operated by Rex Philpot; and the Sexton Mill in Bloomfield. These sawmills chew up a lot of logs, some which are supplied by Corner Brook, in exchange for chips from the slabs as well as wood too small for logs, and also bark and sawdust, which are used as hog fuel to supply the steam plant, reducing the burning of oil. This arrangement is working quite well, but there is still a shortage of logs for the sawmills, as was proven this past year when the Sexton mill was shut down for a period of time because this government would not give them access to some of the Crown lands in Central.
We do not have an abundance of timber on this island, because of the three paper mills in the past; our forests could not sustain them. I went on a field trip this past winter on a logging operation where the production of sawlogs was 20 percent, and 80 percent was pulp.
Our sawmills are providing much more return and jobs from our forests, because lumber is the top end of the tree. If we are to protect that, we have to stop cutting immature trees and let our forests grow to provide sawlogs to our sawmill industry; these industries can go on forever, but only if our forests are managed properly.
I have nothing against a pellet plant in this province, but only if it doesn’t interfere with the operation of the Corner Brook paper mill and the sawmill industry. Pellets are supposed to be a byproduct of scrap wood and residue from sawmills. My advice to the government is if you do a deal with any pellet plant company, make sure it is above board, and do not give them long leases on timber.
We got our timber leases back in 2009 when they ran out. Let’s keep them where they belong, with the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and not use them for short-term gain and a couple seats in the next election. We have given away enough in this province already.
All statements in this letter are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of any of the committees I am a member of.
(Ret) Capt. Wilfred Bartlett
Brighton, Green Bay South, Newfoundland and Labrador
AFR: The organizing committee of the 2014 PEI Winter Woodlot Tour would like to make it clear that some of the comments reported in the article “Islanders in the woods,” published in the March 2014 issue of AFR, in no way reflect our views. The article quotes Bruce Craig, of the PEI Woodlot Owners Association, who proposes allowing pre-commercial thinning and the use of heavy machinery within buffer zones, and a reduction in the size of some buffer zones. These proposals are not supported or endorsed in any way by our organizing committee.
Watershed manager, Hunter-Clyde Watershed Group
PEI Winter Woodlot Tour organizing committee member