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Kitwanga mill opening pushed back

WET weather has delayed the opening of a sawmill in Kitwanga by one week.

Pacific BioEnergy Corporation, which bought the mill out of receivership in the fall of 2009, had hoped for a June 6 opening but has pushed that back to June 13 in order to get more logs into its yard.

“It’s been raining, and there’s still lots of snow in the bush, so it’s really about getting access to the bush for the loggers to get going,” said Brad Bennett, the company’s vice president of operations, late last week.

Bennett estimates that the mill will consume roughly 12,000 to 14,000 cubic metres of fibre per month from a forest licence that was bought along with the mill and from neighbouring licence holders.

Pacific BioEnergy was hoping to target the Chinese lumber market when it announced re-opening plans this spring but will now sell within Canada because the Chinese market has softened, said Bennett.

“We adjusted our cutting program to respond to the changes of the market and we are still moving forward with the start up,” he said.

The mill will primarily cut hemlock, which will then be treated for use as decking and for posts. Lower grade lumber will be sold into the Chinese market.

Bennett said the mill opening is good news for the northwest, and the company remains optimistic for the long-term lumber market. Around 45 people will be going back to work, with the mill running one shift a day.

“We’re still committed, things are happening,” Bennett said, saying the company is in this for the long term.

“We’re still waiting for weather a little bit. Things are a little bit delayed but nothing significant.”

Pacific BioEnergy has a pellet plant in Prince George and originally bought the Kitwanga operation and forest licence to expand its pellet-producing business.

That’s still in the works but a general improving market for lumber caused the company to re-open the mill.

The Kitwanga sawmill has had a long history and, at one time, was part of the Skeena Cellulose sawmill and pulp mill empire in the northwest.

It was owned by a Lower Mainland-based company when it was placed in receivership before being bought by Pacific BioEnergy.

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