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Unifor calls on province to step up on mill issue

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With the Fort Frances mill at the centre of recent controversy, Unifor has weighed in on the issue—calling on the province to facilitate talks for the successful sale and re-start of the mill.

“Within 450 km of Fort Frances, there have now been 11 permanent mill closures and two partial mill closures in just the last 15 years,” Unifor national representative Stephen Boon told the Times last Thursday.

“There are even more closures east of Nipigon,” he noted.

"In fact, there are only three remaining pulp and paper mills left in all of Northwestern Ontario—Dryden, Thunder Bay, and Terrace Bay.

“The residents of Fort Frances and every mill town should be absolutely outraged that [the province] has failed to step up and take a leadership role in pursuing every possible option to avoid the demolition of the Fort Frances mill when there are viable opportunities to secure the successful sale of the Fort Frances mill and 600 much-needed jobs for the North,” Boon charged.

He listed off the mills permanently or partially closed within 450 km of Fort Frances, including:

  • Devlin Timber Sawmill in Kenora—permanently closed;
  • Dryden Domtar (Weyerhaeuser) Sawmill—permanently closed;
  • Dryden Domtar—two paper machines and converting operations permanently closed;
  • Northern Woods Sawmill in Thunder Bay—permanently closed;
  • Great West Timber Sawmill in Thunder Bay—permanently closed;
  • Buchanan Northern Hardwoods Sawmill in Thunder Bay—permanently closed;
  • Mackenzie Forest Products Sawmill in Sioux Lookout—indefinitely closed;
  • Resolute Forest Products in Kenora (formerly Abitibi)—two paper machines permanently closed;
  • Thunder Bay Fine Paper—permanently closed;
  • Resolute pulp and paper mill in Thunder Bay—one large kraft machine permanently closed;
  • Resolute paper mill in Thunder Bay-Mission Mill (formerly Abitibi)—permanently closed;
  • Multiply Forest Products plywood mill in Nipigon—permanently closed;
  • Norampac paper mill in Red Rock—permanently closed; and
  • Esker Sawmill in Red Lake—permanently closed.

As far as the wood supply issue, Boon said it's “crystal clear” to Unifor that the MNRF controls the wood in this province and there will no successful sale of any mill without securing an adequate wood supply from the province in which to run.

“Even though the Fort Frances mill closed exactly five years ago, Resolute has continued to take wood off that mill's limits and apparently wants to maintain this practice for years to come,” Boon noted.

“This is despite the fact that there is abundant unused fibre related to over a dozen mill closures and a Sustainable Forestry Licence (SFL) for the Crossroute Forest that clearly states that 'the forest resources for harvest pursuant to this licence are to provide a supply of forest resources to the existing forest resources processing facility of the company located at Fort Frances, Ontario,'” he added.

“The province needs to step up to enforce the existing SFL for Fort Frances and finally take a leadership role facilitating talks for the successful sale and re-start of the Fort Frances mill,” Boon stressed.

“The clock is ticking and one of our last big pulp and paper mills and 600 well-paying jobs are on the line.”

Boon said Unifor also commends the work that Mayor June Caul, council and the town have done in standing up for the people of Fort Frances in the fight to secure a potential mill sale and re-start in Fort Frances.

“We can only hope that at some point [the province] steps up and shows the same leadership and drive before this opportunity for 600 well paying jobs in Fort Frances permanently slips away,” he added.

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