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Great first step

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Great first step

Abitibi-Consolidated’s announcement here last Thursday morning that its board of directors had approved construction of a biomass boiler at the local mill obviously should be lauded as great news for Fort Frances and Rainy River District.

What cannot be overlooked in the celebration, however, is the great teamwork it took to bring the project to fruition.

There was the company, first and foremost, which had faith in its Fort Frances mill to invest such a huge sum of money to help keep it viable over the long-term. The workers, who not only pledged labour stability earlier this year to allow the company to proceed with the project, but who obviously produce a quality product year in and year out to warrant the investment. And the province, which no doubt helped the company make its decision by chipping in more than a quarter of the cost of the $84.3-million project as well as electricity rebates for the mill.

For its part, the Town of Fort Frances had to amend its official plan and a zoning bylaw to pave the way for the boiler.

The impact of the biomass boiler on the local economy is huge, to be sure. Not only will it help secure the current workforce at the mill, as well as the loggers and truckers, but also create about 50 new jobs related to the harvesting and transportation of the biomass fuel.

Then there’s the jobs needed to build the boiler over the next year; not to mention all the jobs in the local retail and service sectors that depend on a healthy mill.

On the other hand, the boiler alone should not be heralded as the saviour of Fort Frances. The latest census numbers, released yesterday, indicate the town lost 2.5 percent of its population between 2001 and 2006, with the majority of district municipalities also recording declines (Dawson and Alberton were the only ones to show increases, but they were just seven and two residents, respectively).

The boiler certainly is a great first step to help reverse this troubling trend, but let’s not think all our other problems will now magically disappear. A concerted effort still is required on all fronts to get our town and district booming once again.

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