On April 4 West Fraser Announced that it would be selling its Skeena Sawmill assets to ROC Holdings Ltd., a subsidiary of a Chinese conglomerate.
The sale includes the Terrace sawmill and related Crown timber tenures and the plan is to process lumber at the site for shipment to Asia through Prince Rupert, both as raw logs that have been debarked and, eventually, as sawed lumber.
Terrace Mayor Pernarowski, who met with ROC officials last week, said the company anticipates starting to log in the summer to provide material for chips to send south.
There’s been no activity on the forest tenure that was also sold to ROC since West Fraser substantially shut down operations at the mill in 2007.
“Any time you see 40-plus jobs initially, that’s a very good thing for Terrace,” said Pernarowski of plans to run a debarker and log chipper.
Eventually, added the mayor, ROC wants to resume cutting lumber at Skeena Sawmills for shipment to China.
“I know there are plans to upgrade some portions of the mill,” said Pernarowski.
Forests minister Steve Thomson echoed Pernarowski’s comments, saying the prospect of an employment boost would be welcomed.
“Certainly it’s a good sign to have this mill open up again,” he said.
Through wholesale forest policy changes in the last decade, Thomson does not have to sign off on a forest tenure transfer.
And a purchaser does not lose five per cent of a tenure’s annual allowable cut to the forest ministry’s program to encourage small business operators, either.
Thomson also said he’s not required to determine if the purchaser of forest tenure has met with obligations to consult with aboriginal groups and then accommodate whatever interests they may have.
The sale by West Fraser of Skeena Sawmills continues a growing connection between China and B.C. when it comes to forest products.
Thomson credited his predecessor, Pat Bell, with helping build the Chinese market and also in adding lumber to an already substantial whole log export trade.
And the workers at any revamped Skeena Sawmills operation will be represented by the Steelworkers union, says one of its business agents.
Rick Nelson from the Steelworkers union said ROC Holdings Ltd. has already told the union it recognizes it as the workers’
Successorship rights exist because two years has yet to pass since there was any work done at the site, he added.
“The last activity there, in Oct. 2009, was making chips for Eurocan,” said Nelson.
That activity ended when West Fraser, which is selling Skeena Sawmills to ROC, announced the closure of its Eurocan pulp and paper mill in Kitimat.
But West Fraser never did announce a permanent closure, meaning its collective agreement with the Steelworkers survived.
Nelson described as good news the prospect of Skeena Sawmills re-opening on a staged plan of gradually increasing activity on the site.
“We’ve had a preliminary discussion with them. They want to start off by debarking, making chips,” said Nelson.
An initial 40-person work force would increase as the mill began cutting lumber for the Chinese market.
The sale by West Fraser to ROC Holdings is conditional upon a series of events, including an environmental assessment of the location on Hwy16 between Terrace and