The Tl’oh Forest Products finger-joint plant will cease operations on July 31. The mill, which operates in partnership between Apollo Forest Products and the Nak’azdli First Nation, will mean the loss of 43 jobs, 40 hourly workers and 3 staff, 39 of those employed by the mill are band members.
Chief Fred Sam said meetings were held yesterday, June 9, between Nak’azdli First Nation and the Sinclair group. He added meetings also took place with the mills employees to discuss employment strategies and explain how the shutdown will proceed.
“Yesterday we had a short meeting with the groups … the Sinclair Group and Leonard Thomas had a meeting with the employees,” Sam said.
Sam said the groups are going to hopefully figure things out and that the affected employees can get some placements within Apollo and potentially Conifex may take some placements.
“I am looking at the bio-energy plant too … maybe there needs to be some retraining for some too and we can work with the province on that,” he said. “Some are doing millwright work and can connect with the mine. Some have been there for many years … some have been there from the beginning. They’ve been so dedicated to the mill and we just really appreciate that from them.”
Tl’oh president Leonard Thomas said there were some expectations by employees that something was coming down. He said the company’s trying to address a lot of that retraining through its HR department. He said he hopes employees look at it as an opportunity to open new doors.
“HR is talking to each and every one of the employees about what their entitlements are and what can be done for each of them,” Thomas said. “We’ve got our education department, native education training department and the band and sat them down and explained what we’re doing and looked at what we did in the past when we had layoffs then.”
Chief Sam said the effects don’t just hit the Nad’azdli band economically, but also have a big impact on the district of Fort St. James.
“It is not just for the band but for the district of Fort St. James too. (The employees) contribute to the economy locally too, even to our store and the Petro-Can station.”
The Tl’oh mill opened in December 1995 and manufactures finger-joint stud lumber using the trim blocks from primary mills, producing 14-million board feet annually. The majority of lumber produced at the mill is sold in BC, Texas and Indiana. The mine will be serviced, cleaned up, and all assets will be secured until such time that a decision is made on whether operations will resume or the groups divest the assets.
Thomas said he’s really disappointed, adding he was there when the mill opened.
“I spent a lot of time chasing ministers down in airports and figuring out where our forest licence was and if it was going to be approved and that led to this relationship with Apollo,” he said. “It hurts a bit, but I mean at the same time I expected that we may close at some point in the future because all good things usually come to an end.”
Thomas said what hurt Tl’oh the most is that since 2008 the forest industry hasn’t been good for business. He said the company has been operating basically on reserves and just trying to keep people working, but the business is at the point where everything is depleted, the machinery is getting old, the price of lumber hasn’t changed and the softwood lumber agreement is due to expire this fall with no indication that it’s going to be renewed.
“Our biggest hope was that we could find some way to continue operations. Unfortunately, prevailing business conditions prevent us from doing so.”