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Roller coaster

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For the past three months, the district has been on a roller-coaster ride. It began with the announcement in early December that an investment group known as Repap was interested in bidding on the mill in Fort Frances up to word Monday morning that Resolute had rejected the offer delivered late Thursday afternoon.

It has been a constant up and down ride, scaling peaks and plummeting into valleys.

Spirits rose when our local MPP Greg Rickford, the minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, and Indigenous Affairs, confirmed that adequate wood was available for the restart of the Fort Frances mill and was supported by Natural Resources and Forestry minister John Yakabuski. It appeared that negotiations could take place for the sale of the mill.

Then suddenly it was learned that a redevelopment company was the backstop and had the inside track for the mill property. As well, it was learned that Repap could not stomach the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that was requested by Resolute.

The community was worried. Yet hope remained that upwards of almost 600 jobs would be created in the mill and forest, with even more spin-off jobs across the district.

On Thursday, the offer by Repap (now under the name of Rainy River Packaging Inc.) was delivered and received. Spirits rose that successful negotiations would move forward. Sean Twomey, president of Rainy River Packaging, expressed hoped that negotiations would take place early in the new week.

The swiftness of the rejection makes one wonder if Resolute Forest Products ever wanted to sell its shuttered Fort Frances mill to a new operator. And that a backstop agreement had been concluded with a redevelopment company.

Everyone was deflated. Were all of those potential jobs being lost?

One must ask, “Are there any inducements that the town or the province can make to bring about the sale of the mill to an operator?” Resolute has held the door open for Rainy River Packaging to negotiate its own deal with the unnamed redevelopment company.

Rainy River Packaging, municipal councillors, and Minister Rickford remain hopeful and continue to pursue getting the mill here restarted rather than face probable demolition. Can we be hopeful again or is this the end of the roller-coaster ride?

—Jim Cumming

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