One of the district's First Nations is worried about the future of wood fibre allocations and existing forestry operations in the region.
Rainy River First Nations (RRFN) chief Robin McGinnis sent a letter to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) last Wednesday expressing concerns over the town calling for Resolute's Sustainable Forest License (SFL) to be revoked, stating it could effect local jobs.
The town's request came after discovering Resolute attached several restrictive covenants to the sale of the Fort Frances mill to Riversedge Development's numbered company, 2670568 Ontario Limited, to ensure it cannot be resold to manufacture various pulp or paper products.
The restrictive covenants also require key mill assets to be designated for scrap and prevent a new owner from engaging with the province to request wood supply.
“That contemplation to reallocate the Crossroute Forest to an unopened mill in Fort Frances is going to have multiple effects that we think have to be considered,” said RRFN Coun. Sonny McGinnis.
“We're basically looking at a workforce of 40-50 people at the Manitou Sawmill that could be effected if we lose our wood rights and in saying so, probably a multiple of three for the Norbord plant.”
In the letter RRFN states “we see no possibility of the Fort Frances pulp and paper mill . . . starting up without completely disrupting the existing wood supply commitments served by the Crossroute and the Sapawe Forests.”
“As a stakeholder, we require stability in our allocated harvest volume for the duration of the future Sapawe-Crossroute ESFL [Enhanced Sustainable Forest License]. Any change in these wood fibre allocations would be damaging to all current parties to the ESFL, as it is a 'zero sum' game,” the letter continued.
Fort Frances, meanwhile, has a different perspective on the prospect of the mill's restart and drafting of the ESFL, which goes into effect in April 2020.
“We absolutely are confident that there is enough wood supply in the Crossroute and Sapawe Forests to reopen the Fort Frances Mill and also supply the existing businesses currently in operation,” said Mayor June Caul.
“I was very taken aback and disappointed when I saw the letter from Chief McGinnis to the minister,” she added.
“Chief McGinnis was one of the people who spoke positively and supported the town's stance of working toward reopening the mill here in Fort Frances.”
Forestry consultants have advised representatives of Fort Frances that there is room for a new forest harvester to operate, without negative impacts on others in the district, if the government facilitates that process.
Council has also been told by the province that if a business proponent for the Fort Frances mill comes forward, the wood fibre will be made available.
“No one is trying to take anything away from those who are currently operating,” Fort Frances councillor Douglas Judson remarked,
"Obviously, that's not good policy, that's not good for our regional economy, but we need tools to ensure that the economy grows when a new forestry operators sees that there's a viable opportunity in a community like Fort Frances.
“What we need to have happen is for the ESFL model to include a mechanism where by a new entrant can have multiple avenues to explore available wood fibre,” he added.
Meanwhile, RRFN questions the town's considerations for existing operators at the expense of a restarted mill.
“If they had concerns for the existing operators . . . like Manitou Forest Products . . . I think they would have contacted them before making these demands on the ministry,” said Chief McGinnis, in regards to the town's request to revoke Resolute's SFL and seek interest from others who are willing to invest locally.
Currently, Resolute hauls a significant portion of the wood it harvests in the local Crossroute Forest outside of the district to their mills in Thunder Bay.
Mayor Caul has said that wood should be re-allocated back to Fort Frances and Resolute should harvest wood in other parts of the region to feed its operations east of the district.
In regards to the Fort Frances mill Coun. McGinnis said it's important to note that when it closed in 2014 it had a total of two natives on its workforce.
“That provides a picture of the type of hiring practices that existed in the town not too long ago,” he charged.
Meanwhile Chief McGinnis' letter to the MNRF, he said was sent, in part, to get affirmation that the ministry isn't going to trade the economic interests of the district for the possibility of a restarted mill in Fort Frances.
“That's the biggest policy consideration that we need to have discussed and addressed by the Minister of Natural Resources,” he remarked.
At this point, the MNRF has acknowledged Chief McGinnis' letter but hasn't issued an official response.
Chief McGinnis said he will be following up with a request to meet with the MNRF to hash out their concerns.