If the local mill ends up being demolished, the Town of Fort Frances has some demands for Resolute Forest Products to ensure the outcome is in the community's best interests.
Resolute has placed a March 15 deadline on the transition of the mill and Repap Resources Group is expected to submit a bid to Resolute by that deadline.
But it's also possible a demolition company may bid on it and, as such, the town has informed Resolute that it will invoke its site plan control process if such a company takes ownership of the mill.
“Through the site plan control process, we will require any owner, prior to demolition, to provide the town a line of credit that administration is recommending be no less than $20 million to ensure that the process is completed with minimal impact to our community,” Mayor June Caul told the Times on Monday.
“Town administration is also recommending a series of third-party professional studies to be completed with respect to architectural, historic, engineering, and environmental aspects,” she noted.
The town will take proactive steps to ensure the sites be “aesthetically pleasing, safe, healthy, and functional” after a demolition process, Mayor Caul vowed.
She added the town's need to protect the community will cause any proponent to invest time and capital up front to undertake such a demolition project.
“But we believe the best outcome for our community is to hold any redevelopment company to the highest standards the law allows,” the mayor stressed.
“These proactive steps will protect our town from unfortunate disasters like those that happened in communities like Red Rock and Iroquois Falls when they lost their major industries,” she said.
“As such, the town will institute every safeguard and insist on every necessary step ensure a positive outcome for our community and its residents.”
During Monday night's council meeting, Mayor Caul elaborated that a community redeveloper was in Fort Frances last week looking at the mill site.
“This company, Riversedge, has a very poor track record and is in default on property taxes on other mill properties it obtained,” she charged.
For example, Riversedge bought the Resolute mill in Iroquois Falls for only $600,000 and now has more than $900,000 in multiple contract liens on the property.
“We do not want to fall prey to the same fate as we have seen in Red Rock and Iroquois Falls,” Mayor Caul stressed.
“We have invested greatly in the success of Resolute Forest Products through the years," she added. ”For 100 years, the shareholders who adjoined as Resolute have benefitted from the revenue generated from our mill, which was fed with wood fibre from the Crossroute Forest—a forest that has sustained many mills through the years with ample wood for everyone.
“We want the wood designated to the Fort Frances mill back,” Mayor Caul demanded.
She concluded the town will continue to appeal to both levels of government and Resolute to “ensure meaningful consideration be given to an offer made by an interested party to purchase the mill to make it functional and productive again, giving employment to all workers surrounding Fort Frances.”
Economic development consultant Tannis Drysdale, meanwhile, said a town-formed working group consisting members of council and community members continues to meet frequently to review the current mill status and determine next steps.
The economic development office and council has been providing Repap, the proponent currently looking to buy and operate the mill, with information and documentation on fibre supply, assessment values, labour force, and grants and programs for industry, as well as various Ontario government ministries and agencies, she noted.
They've also been setting up meetings with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and Finance, attending meetings for Repap with the MNRF to explain fibre supply, and developing and organizing partnership interests.
Expert legal assistance has been retained to review documents and provide council with the best advice, added Drysdale, while lobbyists have been retained to forward the opinions and interests of Fort Frances.
“We are regularly liaising with the MPP's office [and] have been sending numerous pieces of communication to stakeholders, Resolute, and the government of Ontario,” she said.
“We have a [March 15] deadline that Resolute has placed on the transition of the mill," Drysdale added. "So as we work towards that, we would like to thank the community and council for their arduous efforts in making a positive transition possible.”
In related news, two applications were completed for funding to hire a consulting firm to conduct a study to determine the best possible uses for the former Shevlin wood yard and nursing station gifted to the town last year, Drysdale noted in a written report received by council Monday night.
If successful, these grants will cover 90 percent of the study costs.
Decisions on funding should be announced soon.
An RFP for a consultant closed in December and the awarding of the successful proposal will be announced in the coming weeks.
Drysdale said the town intends to proceed with the study regardless of what happens with the transfer of the mill property.