Letter to the editor: Hamptons intentions need to be clarified

By Brenda Gouglas, resident of Fort St. James, B.C.

Dear editor,

Since the announcement that Conifex was selling their Fort St. James sawmill and forest licence to Hampton I have spent time learning about the sale in relation to Hampton’s current operations.

Information I found suggests to me that Hampton would use most, if not all, of the forest licence volume to meet the needs of their current operations, rather than those of their intended sawmill in Fort St. James.

In light of that information I believe Hampton’s intentions for use of the timber needs to be clarified.

My research took me back to a January 2012 Lakes District News article, in which Hampton said they needed at least 1 million cubic metres of wood annually to justify rebuilding the Babine Forest Products sawmill in Burns Lake.

I believe their intention was to get an increase in their forest licences’ allowable annual cut. The province did not agree with Hampton, as they considered there to be enough timber in the area to support the mill’s operation; the mill was rebuilt regardless.

Currently Hampton’s Babine Forest Products and Babine Timber have four forest licences with a combined allowable annual cut of 449,699 cubic metres, which they use in their Babine and Decker Lake sawmills along with purchased timber from the area.

Their licences’ allowable annual cut is likely to be reduced, possibly substantially, with the announcement of the results of the Lakes Timber Supply Area timber supply review this fall. Large forest fires and degradation of Mountain Pine Beetle killed trees over the area are responsible for an increased reduction in available timber.

Hampton gave recognition to the possibility of reduced cut levels in a Lakes District News article in October 2018, saying the timber supply appeared more restrictive than previously forecast.

In the article Hampton’s Chief Executive Officer Steve Zitka said “There is no doubt that to keep both mills [Babine and Decker] running at normal levels we need to reach farther outside the Lakes District for timber.” I have added the emphasis.

Hampton has now reached farther outside the Lakes District, and is in the process of purchasing Conifex’s forest licence with an allowable annual cut of 440,000 cubic metres.

Considering the information above, is it Hampton’s intention to use the 440,000 cubic metres of timber to keep their Babine and Decker mills running at normal levels? If that is the case, they will haul up to an estimated 7857 truckloads of timber a year through our community!

At the August 7th engagement meeting, Dave Salmon of Hampton said if the government lowered the allowable annual cut of the forest licence they were buying they would not build a mill here as intended. How much of the 440,000 cubic metres do they intend to use at the new mill IF it were built?

Would Hampton build a mill here if the government told them they could have the 440,000 cubic metres of allowable annual cut, but only WHEN the mill was built? I did not ask Hampton those questions at the engagement meeting; I am not a fan of the format that was used for questions and answers, where it was one-on-one rather than everyone in attendance hearing the questions and responses.

I do welcome Hampton’s written response to this letter to provide clarity around their intentions for use of the timber. That way the public can be engaged and informed.

In closing, without Hampton’s solid commitment to build a new sawmill here, I do not believe the sale of the forest licence, to them, to be in the public interest for the residents and businesses of Fort St. James.

Brenda Gouglas served as a councillor at the district of Fort St. James for 10 years.

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