RAINY RIVER—Alarm bells should be going off at every council meeting across the district very soon.
Local MPP Howard Hampton told the Rainy River District Municipal Association’s annual meeting Saturday in Rainy River that Ainsworth’s oriented strand board mill at Barwick is hanging by a thread.
“We have three-six months to do things right to keep Barwick open,” he stressed, referring to all the municipal leaders on hand.
Hampton explained the shutdown by Buchanan Forest Products left AbitibiBowater in a real dilemma.
“They used to get all their chips for making paper from them [Buchanan],” said Hampton, adding Abitibi now is getting the jack pine from local timber lots.
While that sounds great for local loggers, Hampton said the desperate need for the chips has seen Abitibi skipping right by stands of poplar and birch—wood Ainsworth needs to make OSB in Barwick.
Since Abitibi controls the wood supply and what is cut locally, Hampton said that has forced Ainsworth to get wood from east of Fort Frances—and that has seen the cost per cubic metre go from $45 to $80.
“Ainsworth has done a great deal to try and keep the Barwick mill open and would like to see it stay open, but costs are making that harder to do,” warned Hampton.
He encouraged all municipalities to talk to Ainsworth and Abitibi to try and get them to the table to rectify the wood supply problem.
He also urged the RRDMA to push the provincial government to do some of the things for the forestry sector like Manitoba has.
“Manitoba saw problems coming and made some major changes,” Hampton noted.
In that province, new timber pricing models are being used. It creates unique timber dues by calculating them each month based upon the preceding month’s forest product commodity prices.
The model sets the minimum base timber dues to charge when markets are low and high when prices are higher.
Manitoba Hydro also offers extremely favourable electricity rates to large customers like Tembec. This has helped them deal with the downturn in markets and the high Canadian dollar.
Manitoba also has offered the industry several tax breaks. All of these actions have saved the industry there all the while mill after mill has been shutting down in Northwestern Ontario.
Hampton said he has spoken to Al Wilcox, the regional director of the Ministry of Natural Resources, and that he is aware there is a problem with the lumber supply here.
“But he needs to hear from you all,” Hampton stressed. “I think in three-six months we can turn this around.”
(Fort Frances Times)