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Abitibi to mothball machine in Kenora

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Abitibi-Consolidated Inc. announced yesterday it will cut production at its Kenora mill in June, eliminating 147 jobs and affecting 333 more—a huge blow for the town’s residents and economy.

“It’s an awful blow for the 150 that are going to be out of a job and the hundreds that won’t be working until fall,” noted Kenora Mayor Dave Canfield, who also works at the mill.

“It’s going to be a hard pill to swallow,” he added.

Although rumours of cutbacks had been circulating during the long weekend, employees at the mill didn’t hear about the layoffs until after 3 p.m. yesterday.

As of June 15, the company announced, one of the Kenora mill’s three newsprint machines will be shut down permanently while the two others will be idled at least until fall.

Exactly who will be out of a job has yet to be revealed and last night even Mayor Canfield was uncertain about his future.

“I don’t really know right now, I have a lot of years there,” he said. “But it’s not myself I’m worried about.”

As in Fort Frances, lumber is the primary industry in Kenora and the local economy is expected to be hit hard by the lost jobs.

“It’s a pretty solemn place here right now, it’s definitely going to hurt in the short term,” admitted Mayor Canfield. “But we’ll be working with the company and different levels of government to make sure those machines still run in the fall.”

The cutbacks are being blamed on changing market demands combined with high energy costs, and will permanently reduce Abitibi’s newsprint production by 180,000 tonnes annually.

“We’re in a position where we weren’t on the chopping block until energy prices skyrocketed,” said a frustrated Mayor Canfield.

Denis Jean, Abitibi-Consolidated’s senior vice-president of Northern Newsprint Operations, indicated yesterday the company will be working to find economic ways to convert the machine being shut down to produce value-added paper instead of newsprint.

But he added the two idle machines will only restart when market conditions for newsprint improve.

“It was a difficult but necessary decision. With Kenora’s energy costs making it one of the highest cost operations in Canada, we had to act,” said Jean.

“At the same time, however, we recognize the impact that these changes will have on the employees and the Kenora community at large,” he added.

“Over the coming weeks, we’ll be holding discussions with the employees, unions, and governments to investigate measures that will reduce the impact of the decision.”

The company also announced yesterday that in addition to more than 50,000 tonnes of market-related downtime taken in April, a further 50,000 tonnes will be taken in May and June at several of its North American newsprint mills.

Despite the news, there is little chance the Abitibi-Consolidated mill here will be affected.

“At this time, not really, no,” general manager Jim Gartshore said Tuesday.

“We do have to always watch our cost and productivity [but] we’re in different product lines,” he added. “Our whole product is more value-added or brighter paper. It’s glossier and smoother.”

The local mill recently added a peroxide plant to produce even brighter paper and will move away from the 65-70 brights, which, Gartshore noted, could be passed on to other mills such as Kenora.

“The plan was to move up the value-added chain. We’re moving out of some 65-70 brights,” said Gartshore, who noted the local mill worked closely with its Kenora counterpart.

“It’s tragic, especially for the town to lose that . . . it’s a sad day, indeed, to see it happen,” he said.

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