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Sawmill open for business

Skeena Sawmill’s Andrew Nichols, maintenance superintendent, and office administration assistant Deana Campbell stand before stacks of newly-made lumber at the mill’s site in Terrace on HWY16 - Lauren Benn
Skeena Sawmill’s Andrew Nichols, maintenance superintendent, and office administration assistant Deana Campbell stand before stacks of newly-made lumber at the mill’s site in Terrace on HWY16
— image credit: Lauren Benn

A full crew of Terrace workers showed up for shift Monday as Skeena Sawmills swung into full operation.

The sawmill, which prior to this summer hadn’t cut a log since 2007, now employs 50 local workers and is expected to hire more according to mill officials.

After a lumber-making test period this summer, the sawmill has secured enough buyers for its lumber to operate from 7 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.

“That means employment for the people in Terrace first and foremost,” said Gian Sandhu, spokesman for Roc Holdings Ltd., the company which owns the mill. “And it means that there’s going to be some wood produced and we’re going to look forward to better economic conditions for everyone in the town.”

The mill will be making specialty sized lumber-products and has secured customers in China, Alberta and the eastern Canadian market, explained Sandhu.

“Our intent is to push the button on Monday morning and then keep going,” he said last week.

While keeping going in lumber and logging is never a sure bet as it’s a commodity, economic conditions for sales look good right now said Sandhu adding one hitch the company currently faces is finding the log supply to make more lumber.

The company has three cutting licences in the area — TFL 41, which is a tree farm, and two forest licences, one of which is in the Nass.

The three amount to an allowable cut of 317,000 cubic metres per year.

Whether or not a second shift will start up is dependent on log supply, said Sandhu.

“We’re working on different relationships with stakeholders who own logs in the area. If we’re able to tie log supply for the second shift we’ll put that on,” he said.

Ideally, the mill plans to source up to  500,000 cubic metres yearly from other log harvesters for the mill should customers, lumber prices, full-capacity production and log availability create the perfect economic storm.

For now, mill owner Teddy Cui says he’s glad to see it running full time as this stage is years in the making.

“Two years ago we first negotiated with West Fraser,” said Cui, who flew to Terrace last weekend to celebrate the mill’s opening.

Skeena Sawmills was purchased by the B.C. company Roc Holdings Ltd. in July 2011 and has spent about $6 million in B.C. to date including upgrades and operations. Officials said the sawmill is committed to spending up to $15 million to get fully started.

The Terrace sawmill has a single shift capacity of 90 million board feet per year.

Before it was purchased and opened by Roc Holdings Ltd., it sat empty since its closure in mid 2007 when West Fraser shut the mill doors during a labour dispute.

It formerly employed roughly 80 workers, but never did get back up and running with poor American markets as the reason cited by West Fraser at the time.

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