Emphasis was placed on using a lot of natural building materials, including wood, in the construction of the new Haisla Health Centre in Kitamaat Village. (Photo Gerry Leibel)

Provincial government tosses forest industry a lifeline

Building code changes will see more wood used in construction

The provincial government has thrown the struggling B.C. forestry industry a lifeline – changing legislation that limits the height of wood buildings.

The announcement, made on Thursday, November 21, by housing minister Selina Robinson, comes in the midst of ongoing, devastating news for forestry industry workers throughout the province.

On Monday, Vancouver-based Canfor announced its latest province-wide shutdown of sawmill operations from Christmas to after New Year’s Day. Earlier this month Vernon-based forest products company Tolko announced the permanent closure of its Kelowna sawmill.

Robinson said a significant change to the building code would enable local governments to allow contractors to build 12-storey tall wood buildings, potentially increasing sales of forestry products in B.C. as exports continue dropping as a result of supply and pricing issues.

The move has been welcomed by Kitimat mayor Phil Germuth, one of 21 northern B.C. mayors who signed a letter in August addressed to the federal government in regard to the crisis in the province’s forestry industry.

The letter, addressed to then-ministers for natural resources, Amarjeet Sohi, and employment, Patricia A. Hajdu, urged the federal government to step in to help the industry, one of the largest employers in the province, employing nearly 140,000 people.

Other mayors who signed the letter included the then-Smithers mayor and current MP for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, Taylor Bachrach, Terrace mayor Carol Leclerc, Prince George mayor Lyn Hall, Vanderhoof mayor Gerry Thiessen, Hazelton mayor Dennis Sterritt, Fraser Lake mayor Sarrah Storey and Telkwa mayor Brad Layton.

At the time Germuth said the letter was of vital importance to support the forestry industry which plays such an important role in supporting communities and families across the north.

Reacting to last week’s announcement of changes to the building code, Germuth commended the federal and provincial governments for heeding the province’s call to assist the forestry industry.

“The changes will hopefully help support our struggling forest sector by providing greater opportunity to use B.C. forest products in B.C. buildings,” said Germuth.

“Beyond bolstering domestic markets for the province’s timber supply, increased timber use will improve building energy efficiencies, lessen full life-cycle environmental impacts and allow for more cost-efficient construction, which should facilitate more affordable and accessible buildings for British Columbians.”

Discussing the new Mills Memorial hospital earlier this year, Terrace mayor Carol Leclerc said as much wood as possible should be used in the construction of the building.

“I think we’d want to use as much wood as possible,” said Leclerc in January, making note of the important role B.C. lumber has played in the economic foundation and development of the region.

“A lot of wood is used in construction projects elsewhere and I’d like to see the same here.”

Leclerc said construction plans for the hospital had to fit the allotted budget for construction and that wood was an ideal alternative to other more costly building materials.

– with files from Rod Link and Aman Parhar

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