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UPDATED: Indefinite curtailment announced for Catalyst Paper Tis’kwat mill

Facility not viable under current market conditions, according to owner Paper Excellence
FINANCIAL LOSSES: Paper Excellence's Catalyst Paper Tis’kwat mill will be indefinitely curtailed. The company states that the facility is not viable in today’s market.

Paper Excellence announced the indefinite curtailment of operations at its Catalyst Paper Tis’kwat (pronounced Tees-kwat) mill on December 1.

According to a media release from the company, the ongoing contraction of global paper markets and paper prices, particularly in Asia, are creating significant ongoing financial losses at the mill. Despite the best efforts of the mill’s committed team of employees, the facility is simply not viable under the reality of today’s market conditions, the release stated.

The company had previously announced (on November 18) a temporary curtailment starting November 22 with a potential restart in early January 2022.

In an interview with the Peak, Graham Kissack, Paper Excellence vice president, environment, health and safety and corporate communications, said the announcement is an indefinite curtailment of the site, so there is not a restart date in mind for the facility.

“We continue to watch paper markets and pricing,” said Kissack. “We also continue to look at the mess that exists in BC that relates to supply chain logistics, and so we are hoping there is a better story and a path forward sometime in 2022. At this time, we just don’t know what time that date is.”

Kissack said the company is looking forward to a working relationship with the provincial government.

“The province has been very helpful,” said Kissack. “We’ve already had a number of discussions relating to the site about potential approaches and things we could do in the short, medium and long term. We are certainly exploring those and we will continue to do that through December and January.”

Kissack said there are initiatives in place to try and do whatever can be done to salvage a very difficult situation for the company.

UNIFOR Local 75 president Bill Spence told the Peak that over the next month a lot of the union’s members will be working, “putting the mill to sleep, basically.”

“They’ll be cleaning it up, tidying it up,” said Spence. “Preserving assets is the way the company likes to put it. On January 31, they will be laid off. There will be minimal people looking after the environment and security. Everyone else is going to be laid off.”

In terms of workers being offered positions in other Paper Excellence facilities, Spence said it will be good for the workers who get placements.

“They have to feed their families, so if there is an opportunity elsewhere, then that’s good for the members,” said Spence. “If the company decides to start up again, they will have to be replaced.”

Spence said he could not make any statement on the mill’s prospective future.

“There’s no way to know,” he added.

While an indefinite curtailment is not a closure, Spence said that same wording was used in Mackenzie, and six months later it was permanent. Still, he is hopeful.

“We hope something happens that is good for the community, but really, it’s impossible to say. People will deal with it.”

Katrine Conroy, minister of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development, stated in a ministry of forests media release that the indefinite curtailment of the mill is devastating for the 206 employees, their families and the community.

Conroy stated the provincial government is committed to supporting impacted workers through skills training, short-term employment opportunities, and employment assistance and support.

“Separately, my colleagues and I will continue to meet with industry leaders to discuss future economic development opportunities at the site,” stated Conroy.

In an interview with the Peak, Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons said he will continue to ensure all efforts are made to find and diversify the community’s economic base.

“The first thing, of course, is to make sure all supports that are available are in place for the many workers and families who are impacted,” said Simons. “That is the key. My first thought, like everyone else in the community, is for the workers.

“First and foremost, I want to make sure the programs and supports that are made available by the province are accessed by those eligible. The focus simultaneously turns to how we are going to ensure investors see Powell River as a good place to do business.”

Simons said he would do his best to champion the workers and the company. He said the uncertainty is the last thing that was wanted and his hope is that there will be an upturn in the not-too-distant future.

Paper Excellence is engaged with governments and potential partners investigating promising new opportunities that would take advantage of the facility’s unique access to deep water, natural gas, electricity and water supplies, as well as its existing biomass boiler with power generating capacity, wastewater treatment and solid waste disposal infrastructure, according to its media release.

“It is Paper Excellence’s long-term goal that the site continues to provide meaningful employment and economic activity in Powell River,” the release stated.

Paper Excellence stated that it will now focus on the 206 employees impacted by this decision. The company acknowledges the extraordinary effort of the committed team of employees who have worked tirelessly since the restart in May 2021, according to the release.

Where possible, the company plans to offer relocation or secondment opportunities to other Paper Excellence facilities across BC where there are currently job vacancies. The company will also respect and fulfill all obligations under the terms of the collective agreements with UNIFOR Local 1 and Local 76.

During the curtailment, Paper Excellence stated it is committed to ensuring the safety of the mill facility, and protection of the community and surrounding environment. Following curtailment, the company’s priority will be safeguarding the site and equipment, removal of all fibre and chemicals, and general cleanup of the facility to eliminate environmental risks. A small team of employees will continue to provide around-the-clock security and monitoring.

The release stated that Paper Excellence will continue to supply paper customers with production from its other paper mills in Crofton and Port Alberni. The company continues to believe Canada is a leader in the pulp and paper industry and remains committed to its long-term investments here, according to the release.