Since becoming aware of an agreement that prevents the idle mill here from being restarted, local MPP Greg Rickford said he will fight for a positive outcome for the town, in a statement released yesterday morning.
“Our government is committed to making the forestry sector in Ontario open for business and open for jobs through the development of a new provincial forestry strategy,” said Rickford.
“As the former owner of the pulp mill, decisions regarding the sale of the facility are Resolute's to make,” he added.
“I will continue to work alongside the Fort Frances community and fight to ensure that the site benefits the hardworking people of Fort Frances, and that it will continue to be an important economic driver for the area.”
Town councillor Douglas Judson said while the facility was private property held by Resolute, and thus up to Resolute to sell, the Crossroute Forest is not.
“Crown forests are not privately owned, and taxpayer funding is public money—meaning the province needs to ensure the wood rights are being managed in the interest of our community and its economy, and to ensure we get some value out of the $23 million investment that the province put into this facility just a few years ago,” he remarked.
"The previous government could have put any number of restrictions on the waiver of that $23 million loan to Resolute in 2017 to protect this mill from the wrecking ball, and to support our community.
“They didn't, and that's utterly shameful. I think we are all counting on this new government to use the laws and levers at its disposal to correct those wrongs,” Coun. Judson added.
He said Rickford has been in the town's corner throughout the fight to restart the mill and remains optimistic that Ontario will continue to support Fort Frances.
“This is the single most important file for this community, and the single biggest opportunity to create well-paying forest sector jobs in Kenora-Rainy River,” Coun. Judson stressed.
Meanwhile, Rivesedge Developments, the company who purchased the mill for one dollar, has indicated they would like to create a cannabis growing operation at the site.
However, the town has had no indication that any licenses or permits for such business have been pursued or granted.
“There is no available evidence that any effort has been made on the part of this development company to convert the Fort Frances mill properties into a cannabis operation,” Coun. Judson remarked.
The town also question if such a business is feasible in a pulp and paper mill.
“We welcome new economic opportunities, obviously, but the businesses we know are feasible in that facility produce pulp and paper,” Coun, Judson explained.
“We also know there are serious players looking at doing that here in this mill—and we know that those are well-paying forest sector jobs that lead to a higher tax base and utilize our local workforce's skills.”