My perspective -
Wood formerly used to make paper in Grand Falls-Windsor is now flowing west to help Corner Brook Pulp and Paper survive this economic downturn.
Local contractors are busy this summer harvesting fiber to sell to the local sawmill industry. That industry then makes the saw logs and sends the pulp chips to Corner Brook where it is used to make newsprint. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that because it does create jobs for the local wood harvesters here who were in a pickle once AbitibiBowater shut down. The problem I have is that government officials have been saying for months now no wood from central Newfoundland is going to Corner Brook Pulp and Paper.
Well guys, its going west through the back door. Sexton Lumber, for example, is bringing substantial volumes of chips to Corner Brook weekly.
One truck alone brings 32 tonnes of chips five times a week to Corner Brook. It's hard to determine just how many trucks are involved in the transfer. I did see two Sexton trucks on the road to Corner Brook while in the west coast city last week.
There are many people who benefit by the closure of the AbitibiBowater paper mill in Grand Falls-Windsor. This is not the column to continue my perspective on the expropriation of our hydro resources once used to make paper nor is it the time to look at how the Premier's district benefits from the economic demise of the Exploits Valley.
Local wood contractors were given the right to harvest former Abitibi limits this summer to keep the wolf from the door. Local contractors who formerly cut for Abitibi have huge expenses and to have their equipment lying idle would be a serious blow to them. Unless there is a long-term plan, however, they will be in a fix unless government comes up with another use for the wood. But for now at least central Newfoundland fiber is going west to fuel what was once our region's main newsprint competitor.
The quicker we can find another use for the central Newfoundland fiber the better. If we don't come up with a plan soon a huge portion of central Newfoundland wood will be used to grow the west coast city of Corner Brook and that's not socially acceptable.
While the present government screams of no more giveaways, we in Grand Falls-Windsor have to watch as valuable pulp chips flow west. One only has to look at the many pulp chip carriers and round wood loads going through Badger to get an appreciation for it all.
While those chips help sustain a struggling sawmilling industry and a pulp mill outside of our region the time has come to ask a few questions. What is the economic task force doing to ensure we have an industry for our fiber? How much of that fiber is now going out of our region. What is the status of a proposed wood pellet plant for central Newfoundland? We need answers.
Don't forget there was a group in town earlier this year looking at spending close to $100 million to develop such an industry here.
Grand Falls-Windsor was built around the benefit of wood and water. It sustained this community for 100 years. Now, with the hydro expropriated by the government and no willingness by the province to demonstrate that we as a region have a right to at least a portion of that benefit, it now seems we are losing our wood - albeit a few sticks at a time - to benefit another region.
The time has come to tell us about the plan to use our precious wood resource to grow our local economy. The premier has already stated he plans to work very hard to make the Corner Brook Paper mill the finest in the country. In the meantime if I were a woods contactor on the Northern Peninsula I would want to ask a few questions as well.
If central Newfoundland pulp chips continue to flow west I'm certain it will not only help our Kruger friends on the west coast but will put a dent into the amount of wood flowing off the Northern Peninsula and into Corner Brook which brings me to another story. I was intrigued by a recent article in the August 22 business section of the St. John's Telegram and later carried in the Advertiser, which describes government's $10 million dollar investment in Holson Forest Products.
That story goes something like this:
"Isaac Tatchell couldn't have gotten better news. The Reef's Harbour forestry contractor learned he'll have a buyer for the 40 tractor trailer loads of wood he's stockpiled and that he will have work into the foreseeable future. Tatchell, forestry workers and local leaders all gave Holson Forest Products a standing ovation when he rose to announce, the wood pellet plant, new sawmill and wood inventory yard he'll be building with the $10 million he's receiving from the province."
It's not that I object to a good news story on the Northern Peninsula, but I can only hope there will be announcement soon as to how we plan to use our precious wood resource expropriated from AbitibiBowater.
Having wood chips once used to make paper here end up in Corner Brook is not what I had in mind.
(Roger Pike writes from Grand Falls-Windsor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)