Production curtailments will hit B.C. sawmill towns hard

With areas around B.C. already reeling from bad forestry news, 160 employees at 100 Mile House found out Tuesday afternoon that their jobs at the Norbord mill could be gone for good.

"It hurts all the families involved directly, all the loggers and people in the service industry, small business," Mitch Campsall, mayor of 100 Mile House, said. "Things will just keep going down, down, down, it will affect everybody."

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Norbord announced its intention to "indefinitely curtail" production at its oriented strand-board (OSB) mill in 100 Mile House, starting in August.

Peter Wijnbergen, president and CEO of Norbord, cited the climate-related phenomena of the mountain pine beetle epidemic and, more recently, the increased number of wildfires that have led to wood-supply shortages and high prices.

"Indefinite curtailment means the company doesn't know if they will begin operating again or when that might be," Campsall said.

The 100 Mile House mill has a stated annual production capacity of 440 million square feet of product. Norbord said it will meet current and future customer demand from its 11 other OSB mills in North America, including two in northern Alberta.

"It's horrendous for our community and it will be an absolute disaster if those workers don't come back," Campsall said.

He and others are lobbying to have stumpage fees lowered to make B.C. mills more competitive.

Industry analysts have a generally gloomy forecast overall, predicting up to a dozen mill closures in the next 10 years. Quesnel was hit in May when Tolko Industries announced it would close its mill there, at the cost of 150 jobs, and West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd. cut a shift at one of its mills.

Canfor will close its Vavenby mill next month, putting 172 people out of work, according to the mayor of Clearwater. That will leave Canfor with 12 Canadian mills, 11 of them in B.C. (and one in Grand Prairie, Alta.), with an annual capacity of about 3.55 billion board feet.

The company will begin curtailing operations in B.C. on June 17 through July 26, reducing production by about 200 million board feet (the unit of measure used in Canada and the U.S. to quantify lumber). The Canfor mill in Mackenzie will be curtailed for six weeks, mills in Houston and Vanderhoof for four weeks, and most of the rest for two weeks, the company said.

It's keeping a mill outside Creston running at capacity, a mill Canfor bought 2 1/2 years ago that employs 120 and makes specialty high-grade wood products.

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