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Skeena Sawmills set to re-open after months long closure

Log deliveries resume today
Skeena Sawmills is to re-open May 29 followed on June 6 by pellet-making Skeena Bioenergy (above) on June 5. (Staff photo)

Skeena Sawmills is re-opening its scales today to build up a log inventory leading to a planned May 29 re-opening. The shutdown that began in early February has idled more than 150 direct employees for almost three months.

The mill’s owners had cited high operating costs, a lack of a secure fibre supply and weak markets combining to make its operation uneconomical.

“We will start the mill one shift with the focus on hopefully resuming full production capacity in the next two to three months when market conditions are projected to improve,” said company chief operating officer Greg DeMille.

Also affected by the closure was the subsidiary Skeena Bioenergy pellet plant located next door. It is now scheduled to re-open June 5 and employs approximately 20 people.

Workers were being called back last week as Skeena Sawmills accelerated its re-opening plans.

February’s closure followed moves last fall to trim production.

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

The company sells squared timber to the Alberta petroleum industry where it is used as rig mats, the name for timber laid down so vehicles and equipment can be driven over soft ground.

Skeena Sawmills has also asked the provincial government for $17.5 million to finance a three-year project it says will restore the mill and pellet plant to profitability.

Improvements at both facilities would increase the value of the raw material each business processes into final products and reduce costs, DeMille told Terrace city council March 27 in asking for a letter of support to bolster its financial request.

And that would then set the stage for a longer term and far more expensive modernization plan, DeMille continued.

The money Skeena wants from the province would come from the B.C. Manufacturing Jobs Fund announced earlier this year. There’s up to $90 million to be spent over three years.

Skeena Sawmills dates back to the 1960s when it was owned and operated by a local group.

It was subsequently purchased by West Fraser and became an integral part of that company’s northwestern B.C. forest operations, supplying chips to its Eurocan pulp mill in Kitimat.

A lengthy 2007 strike throughout the coastal forest industry idled the mill and it never fully re-opened when a new labour contract was signed. However, it did continue to supply chips to the pulp mill in Kitimat.

That part of its business ended in late 2009 when West Fraser announced it was closing its Eurocan pulp mill and Skeena Sawmills was then placed in care and maintenance.

West Fraser then announced the sale of the mill, along with associated wood licences in 2011 to China-based Roc Holdings.

The pellet plant was built to provide another income stream and to deal with the sawdust and other material produced by the sawmill.

About the Author: Rod Link

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