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The Town of Fort Frances has been working with Repap, a company formed to acquire the Fort Frances paper mill from Resolute Forest Products. Acting on the best interests of the town, surrounding First Nations, and municipalities, the town has made multiple representations to provincial cabinet members to encourage the Ontario government to honour the Sustainable Forest Licence (SFL) to have the wood fibre found in the Crossroute Forest delivered to the Fort Frances mill and that the government would guarantee those wood rights to the new operators of the mill.

In 2020, the SFL will be changed to an Enhanced Sustainable Forest Licence (ESFL) controlled by a separate corporation. Currently, Resolute manages and controls the SFL.

The re-opening of the mill, which was closed by Resolute in 2013, would employ 300 workers in the mill and a similar number in the wood harvest operations supplying it. Since the shuttering of the Fort Frances mill, the wood fibre from the Crossroute Forest has been directed to Resolute's sawmill in Atikokan and its paper mill in Thunder Bay.

The town also received notice from Resolute, in a letter dated Feb. 8, that it had reached an agreement with a community redeveloper to develop distressed industrial properties. They would tear down the mill. By tearing down the mill, there would be one fewer company bidding for the wood in the Crossroute Forest.

There is a deadline of March 15 for a formal offer from Repap.

Coun. Doug Judson had drafted a resolution for council to consider at its meeting this past Monday night with this action: “Fort Frances calls on the Premier of Ontario and the Minister to use all measures within their authority to ensure the mill is open for business, to provide access to fibre in the Crossroute to potential operators of the mill, in keeping with the text of the SFL, and to support outcomes for the mill which create jobs and prosperity in Fort Frances and surrounding municipalities and First Nations.”

As well, Fort Frances would issue a copy of this resolution forthwith to Resolute, the Premier of Ontario, the Minister, the Hon. Greg Rickford, MPP (Kenora-Rainy River), provincial Opposition leaders and critics for natural resources, and all Rainy River District municipal and First Nation councils and representative bodies.

Yet prior to the resolution being debated, council was notified that Resolute might take legal action against council and the Town of Fort Frances should they proceed in passing the resolution on Feb. 11.

Why should our councillors be sued personally for doing our business—by merely considering and debating the resolution in the interests of Fort Frances and surrounding area? Whether you support what the councillors agree upon or not, they must be able to do their job without being exposed to lawsuits and losing their property.

Council ended up tabling the resolution while it sought legal counsel. It was a good way for Resolute to delay council.

Resolute risks looking like a bully trying to discourage the Fort Frances council from considering and debating the resolution in the course of doing its job on behalf of the citizens of the community.

—Jim Cumming

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