Lumber worker (File Photo)

Lumber worker (File Photo)

Fort St. James Mayor worried about potential downfalls when hot lumber market cools

“We need more people and more jobs here.”

‘What goes up must come down’ is a phrase concerning Fort St James Mayor Bob Motion as the lumber market remains hot.

Motion said the industry has never been more profitable and consumers can easily see how much prices have increased.

“But eventually it will go down the other side, and that’s the time when communities run into difficulty, and people get laid off,” he said.

“That’s my big fear right now—is how low it will go when it goes on the other side and starts going down hill because it will. That’s the way the business works.”

A poor market combined with high stumpage could mean companies opt for temporary shutdowns resulting in layoffs until market conditions improve.

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Motion maintains that is a situation that smaller communities such as Fort St James cannot afford.

In early May 2019, Conifex Timber Inc. had previously announced it was temporarily curtailing operations at its Fort St James and Mackenzie sawmill for several weeks “due primarily to continued high log costs and lumber market conditions.”

Almost two months later, Conifex agreed to sell their sawmill along with the associated forest license in Fort St. James to Oregon-based Hampton Lumber for $38.6 million. The deal was finalized in November, 2019.

Director of public affairs and communications with Hampton Lumber, Kristin Rasmussen said although COVID-19 restrictions did result in much of the construction being halted over the winter, and that current supply chain logistics could affect equipment deliveries, they are still expecting to start up production of the new sawmill in early 2022.

“We still have some engineering to complete, but we are currently driving piles and getting the site ready for major construction to start soon,” Rasmussen said in an email to Black Press Media.

“All of the primary contractors are from northern B.C.”

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Most of the major equipment is new and has been sourced from around the globe to ensure the sawmill will optimize the value of each log, Ramussen said, adding their value-added premium products will be manufactured for their key customers in Japan and North America.

Motion said while he understands the Hampton sawmill will likely only employ around 60 people—half of Apollo Forest Products—the high-tech and up-to-date facility should be able to fair well in an industry that is much like a roller-coaster.

As Motion anxiously awaits the completion of the sawmill, he remains worried that there is not enough wood and the B.C. Government is in the process of allocating remaining timber resources.

“They’re trucking wood here from us right now all the way down to Quesnel, and it’s a 12-hour trip where it’s coming out in the bush,” Motion said, describing the Prince George timber supply area where Fort St James lies as the last stand.

“It’s a very large area that was hard to get at so it wasn’t logged before, so when all the other stuff has now been logged we’re getting in there now. As a community, we’re saying we’re right here, but you’re trucking all this wood right through town—that is not fair.”

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Motion believes the B.C. Government needs to step up and help small forestry-dependent communities such as his or there won’t be anything left, and large companies such as West Fraser and Canfor will simply move their operations and investments to other parts of the globe, including the Southern United States and Sweden.

“We need more people here and more jobs,” he said.

Rasmussen said Hampton Lumber understands the anxiety associated with the challenge of securing timber supply after the pine beetle devastated B.C.’s Interior forests.

“We believe we can still be successful in northern B.C. by supporting and working with First Nations and local communities and recognizing synergies between our three sawmills,” Rasmussen said.

Hampton Lumber currently operates two B.C. mills in Burns Lake—Babine and Decker Lake Forest Products that has a combined production capacity of 335 million of board feet of timber.

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