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Possible mill deal 'positive' news

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Word Thursday that Repap Resources Group has notified Resolute Forest Products that it wishes to buy the local paper mill's assets and start producing packaging grades (sack kraft papers) next year already has got people thinking positively about 2019 and beyond.

“It's definitely positive news,” Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce president Mark Caron told the Times.

“Anything done with the old Resolute property is a positive," he remarked. ”Adding another industry to the area is definitely another positive.

“You also have to keep in mind all of the construction work that's going to happen before start-up,” added Caron.

“That's going to be an economic boost for all of the hotels, restaurants—it's going to be the same thing as the New Gold start-up when they were doing their build,” he noted.

On the other, Caron said that with some 260 jobs expected to be created at the re-purposed mill, “[town] council's going to have their hands full having to find more vacant property for housing.”

“That's going to be the hot topic now,” he stressed.

Caron admitted he's skeptical about the facility going into production as soon as 2019, guessing the construction phase might take a year to a year-and-a-half.

But nevertheless, from the perspective of the Chamber, “it's definitely a positive for the entire district.”

“It's another industry for the area, which is what we need,” Caron said.

BIA president Doug Cuthbertson said he's cautiously optimistic about the mill purchase and re-start.

“It's exciting news but I'm a 'wait-and-see' guy,” the owner of Northwoods Gallery & Gifts here told the Times on Monday.

“If the mill starts up, it's nothing but a positive thing for the town,” added Cuthbertson.

“It can't possibly be a negative.”

A press release published in Thursday's Daily Bulletin noted town officials are excited about the prospect of the sale and re-purposing of the local mill.

“We look forward to assisting Repap Resources Group in their bid to purchase the Fort Frances paper mill,” Mayor June Caul stated.

“Returning 263 new jobs in the Rainy River District is remarkable," she added. ”It will not only reunite families [but] will also provide long-term opportunities for our youth.

“We thank Repap Resources Group for their interest in investing in the future of Fort Frances,” said Mayor Caul.

The Times also asked its Facebook followers what they thought about the news and got a mixed response, with housing being a concern.

“Fingers are crossed that they are able to negotiate a purchase,” posted Jane Gillon.

“All the more reasoning to build more affordable housing with rent geared to income on the old wood yard,” noted Carolyn Stafford.

“More jobs? That's never a bad thing," wrote Tim Mitchell. ”The economic benefits of restarting the mill are virtually endless.

“Yes, there will be negatives; increased truck traffic, real estate market will increase again, and there's the issue of housing already that will be made worse by it,” he conceded.

“But these are all things that either were the norm four-plus years ago, or can be rather quickly and easily be dealt with by building new housing,” noted Mitchell.

Linda Hamilton posted that the “same sort of investment group bought [the International Falls mill] years ago and that worked for them.”

“Here's hoping and hopefully our [government] gets onside, our side,” she added.

Unifor national representative Stephen Boon, meanwhile, said in a press release issued Saturday that the union is “extremely pleased to see that Repap Resources has now formally expressed an interest in purchasing the closed Resolute Forest Products mill in Fort Frances.”

“Both the Kenora and Ear Falls sawmills are back in full production after experiencing long-term closures back in 2009, and it would a huge boost to the region to now see the Fort Frances mill actually dodge the wrecking ball and also successfully re-start production,” he noted.

“A re-opened mill in Fort Frances could create over 250 well-paying direct jobs, with several hundred more indirect jobs in the area,” Boon added.

Boon said Unifor has had discussions with Repap Resources on its start-up plans and thinks it is fair to say that they have a general framework in place for finalizing a long-term start-up collective agreement upon the successful sale of the mill.

“It should be quite obvious that a final mill sale and subsequent re-start is a much preferable scenario for the region and all key stakeholders involved rather than an expensive demolition and the permanent loss of hundreds of well-paying forestry jobs in the region,” he remarked.

“However, in order to ensure this mill sale can be successfully finalized, it is imperative that both the Ontario government and Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry also step up to ensure that Repap Resources, or any company willing to re-start the Fort Frances mill, have full, secure access to sufficient wood supply volumes that have been historically allocated to operating this facility,” he stressed.

Boon also said Resolute publicly has indicated that a number of demolition companies were interested in acquiring the mill, as well.

He added it should be made abundantly clear to Resolute that if it were to decide to pursuit demolition of the mill, instead of selling it to a company willing to re-start it and create hundreds of good jobs, he would “expect that every citizen in the region would demand Resolute lose any control of the Fort Frances mill's traditional wood basket.”

“There should be no incentive for Resolute to demolish that mill over selling it, and I would expect minister Greg Rickford and the every elected leader in the province should share this view,” Boon argued.

Repap Resources Group is a private investment group that is partnering with 4Front Capital Partners Inc., an investment bank in Toronto.

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