FORT FRANCES—With news last week that about 800 workers at Buchanan Forest Product sawmills in Northwestern Ontario will be laid off as of Friday (Nov. 16), some area businesses will feel the impact hard.
Roger Langevin, who’s operated Roger Langevin Trucking out of Devlin for the past 16 years, and has built his business around shipping wood chips to the local AbitibiBowater mill, said he will be closing his doors for good.
“I gave notice to my employees. They are all laid off Friday night,” said Langevin, noting he has 20 employees in total, living both in Rainy River District and Atikokan.
Langevin has been shipping 25 loads of wood chips a day out of Atikokan Forest Products and 15 loads a day out of McKenzie Forest Products (Hudson)—both of which are affected by the shutdowns.
“I talked to Buchanan’s people and nobody knows [when production will resume]. It depends on the market,” noted Langevin, adding that despite some talk about Buchanan resuming production in late January, “I’ve never seen the market good for lumber in January.”
Langevin, who first started up his trucking business in Thunder Bay more than 40 years ago, said this is the first time something like this has ever happened to him.
“In the early ’80s, there was a recession, and the Buchanan mills were all running. But now, they’re all shut down,” he lamented. “The market is bad in the U.S.
“Plus, our dollar is too high. It’s awful.
“It happened all of a sudden. But we all knew the way the dollar was going, and the way the economy was, it wasn’t looking good,” continued Langevin. “It was a matter of time before something happened, and we got it in the face.”
Langevin said he doesn’t think he’ll be able to recover from last week’s bad news.
“I won’t have my people anymore. They’ll all be going west,” he remarked. “So I’ll sell everything and get rid of it. I have no choice.
“I’ll shut down the business. I’ll stay around—I’m too old to go away now,” added Langevin. “But I know my employees, they need to work. They will find work somewhere else because there is a shortage of truck drivers in the country.
“Everybody’s talking about going west.”
Doug Murray, regional mill manager for AbitibiBowater, said yesterday the mill here is working on a plan to make do without Buchanan as a supplier.
“We have capabilities to make quite a few of our own chips in our kraft mill wood room, so we’re going to pick up the pace,” he noted.
“We’ve also secured some supplies from other vendors that we do business with but not on a regular basis, like Buchanan.
“And then we’re also investigating a couple more ways of making sure that we have more than enough chips for what we need,” added Murray.
“It’s tight,” he admitted. “You can’t lose two big sawmills like that and not think this thing is going to go away. It’s going to be tight, but we have a plan and we’re working on the final details of that plan.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep going at maximum production,” he said. “We have a plan and it’s just a matter of all the pieces falling in place and the weather co-operating.
“If you’re relying on wood out of the bush, it has to get cold. What we don’t need is six weeks of straight rain.”
Doug Kitowski, of Doug Kitowski Trucking here, said yesterday his company also will be adversely affected since he has been shipping sawdust and shavings from the Buchanan sawmills in Atikokan, Thunder Bay, and Hudson to places in the United States.
“It means probably three trucks and trailers we’ll have to find something else to do with,” noted Kitowski. “We’ve got a lot of work to do for them in the next week or so, so we’ll do that and worry about Monday when it gets here, you know?
“We’re going to have be looking for other things. We always do anyway,” he added. “But [the Buchanan shipments were] kind of a nice thing. It’s close to home.
“No matter where we go in the U.S., we’ve got to come through our hometown to do that service, so it was really handy for us.”
Kitowski agreed it was difficult to speculate how long the sawmills would remain shut down.
“I would imagine it all depends an awful lot on the U.S. and Canadian dollar,” he said. “With the strong Canadian dollar, it’s not too good for Northwestern Ontario.
“It’s really, really great if you want to go over there and buy something. But first you’ve got to make the money before you can buy anything,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, Mike Ford of Peterbilt Fort Frances said he will be adopting a “wait-and-see” approach as to what the impact of the sawmill shutdowns will be on his business, which services trucks and sells trucks and truck parts.
“It’s not a good thing, that’s for sure,” he remarked, adding losing a customer like Langevin will hurt him “to a certain degree.”
But Ford said he’s curious to see where the mill is going to get more wood chips from, and how that plan will affect the number of trucks hauling wood in the district.
“We’re not going to jump the gun and preach doom and gloom. It’s not a good thing, but I don’t think it’s a permanent thing,” said Ford, adding Peterbilt is, in fact, in the process of hiring more staff.
“In the grand scheme of things, there’s still a lot of wood in the bush. There will be some type of activity,” he noted. “[The sawmill shutdown] is going to have an effect on us, but how it affects us, we’ll wait and see.”
(Fort Frances Times)