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Skeena bioenergy and sawmill plant in Terrace resumes operations, eyes provincial aid

The bioenergy plant opened June 5, a few days after Skeena Sawmills reopened
A check of the Skeena Bioenergy pellet plant, a sister to next door Skeena Sawmills, came in advance of the plant re-opening June 5. It and the sawmill closed in February in response to poor market conditions and the high cost of fibre. (Staff photo)

The Skeena Bioenergy plant opened June 5 following a resumption of operations at next door Skeena Sawmills May 31.

Skeena Sawmills closed both the sawmill and its subsidiary pellet plant in early February citing poor market conditions and the high cost of obtaining wood.

Company CEO Greg DeMille said the plan is to resume sawmill operations with one shift and to then expand within two to three months on the strength of projected market improvements.

“Our strategy is to focus our production on industrial and residential timber products while still maintaining conventional lumber products for our existing customer base,” he said.

The closure idled more than 170 direct employees as well as contractors the company used to bring in logs.

As of now, the sawmill is running on a limited schedule of processing logs being delivered and then planing the inventory.

February’s shutdown followed intermittent stoppages and production cuts last year as the company responded to a situation it was uneconomic.

The re-openings come as the company waits to hear if its bid for a provincial government aid package of $17.5 million is successful.

The money would be spent over three years at both the sawmill and the pellet plant to improve efficiency and profitability, DeMille told Terrace city council in late March when he asked the council for a letter of support.

The money would come from the province’s BC Manufacturing Job Fund, a $180 million program established to finance projects to add value to wood products.

A statement from the province indicated officials and Skeena Sawmills have been speaking and that provincial staffers are now waiting for the project application.

One key addition from a successful grant application would be a dry kiln at the sawmill so more of its products would be dry.

The company wants to focus on supplying square timbers called rig mats to the energy industry. They provide a more stable bed for moving equipment. And a press would be installed at the pellet plant to squeeze water out of fibre, replacing more expensive natural gas-heated blowers.