‘Where is our wood?’ – City demands province work faster to secure additional timber allocation for proposed project

BC-based Carrier Lumber will be resubmitting new harvesting plans for the 21-22 fiscal year. Photo courtesy of Ministry of Environment

The city wants the provincial government to do more to help secure a wood supply for corporations looking to set up operations in the area.

That’s the delay in a proposal that Dionne announced before the city election last year, one that was announced as creating as many as 700 jobs in the area. It’s since been revealed to be an OSB mill, which would require hardwood lumber to operate.

Comments from city councillors asking the province to do more came out of a question asked by Ward 4 Coun. Don Cody during Tuesday’s council meeting inquiring where the wood supply for the facility is at.

Cody said the mill’s investors — who still haven’t been identified publicly — have been asking since at least December for movement on this file.

“We’re into June net week,” he said. ‘Still no wood supply for the OSB mill. Where is our wood?”

As Cody spoke, other councillors banged on their desks and called out “Shame” and “where is it.”

Cody said it’s not just an issue the OSB mill is facing. He said Pivot Subscriptions, which operates a furniture assembly plant in the area, is having to import its wood supply from Manitoba, Alberta and Minnesota.

Pivot didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Dionne said the lack of supply means Pivot can’t grow as fast as it wants to. He also said the issue is impacting a proposed wood pellet plant in the area, which would create fuel for biomass generators elsewhere in the province.

Dionne said he’s about to launch a public campaign to implore the provincial government to do more to ensure the proposed OSB mill, Pivot and the proposed biofuel manufacturing site can get their wood allocations.

“I served our MLAs notice this morning that I will be starting a heavy public campaign to call them and the premier,” Dionne said Tuesday.

“You hear them say they had one of their best years eve (for lumber). We would have made more than that if we had the wood allotment for other companies that are waiting. They’re not working on it at the speed they should be.”

Dionne said if the province had come through on what he alleges were promised wood allotments, the cement would already be poured for the OSB plant, and pivot would be hiring more staff.

“It’s going to get very public. We’re going to phone the premier directly and ask where’s our wood supply. We have a great opportunity in our city. We could put 1,200 people back to work in the forest industry if they could get their letters (promising wood allotments) today.”

Dionne said that if the proposed OSB mill could get even a promise of a partial allocation for a few months then they could start construction.

“The people that are playing with us are serious,” he said. The OSB proposal, he added hasn’t asked for any money.

‘All they have asked the province to give us is wood supply. You’re going to see it heat up here in the next week. We’re going to ask all of our companies to support us … because they want to put people back to work.”

The Herald sent an interview request to the Ministry of Energy and Resources. A spokesperson said Minister Bronwyn Eyre was not available for an interview, but sent a written statement attributed to her.

In her statement, she said the government remains committed to the “full development and utilization of the timber supply” in the area.

“Currently, virtually all the timber in that area I contractually allocated to existing companies,” including Paper Excellence for the potential reopening of the pulp mill.

“As timber becomes available, we will examine any and all options and opportunities for other projects.”

Dionne pointed out that the lumber allocated to Paper Excellence isn’t the same type of lumber that would be needed for an OSB plant. The OSB mill needs hardwood. Paper Excellence, sources have confirmed to the Herald, would use softwood in its operations.

He’s not the only one keeping a close eye on the situation.

NDP jobs critic Aleana Young is also watching the situation closely.

“This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. This is a common-sense issue. This is hundreds and hundreds of good, mortgage-paying jobs. In addition to that, business is good for business. I run a small business myself. When there are more people with good jobs in the community, that means more money being spent in my business, which in turn allows me to hire more staff. I’d be really surprised if the broader business community in PA isn’t also concerned about this.”

There aren’t unused lumber allocations just waiting for the taking. Wood allocations are typically determined far in advance. According to the Ministry of Environment, 61 per cent of the province’s commercial forest has long-term licensing arrangements with forest management agreements in place. Even short-term supply licenses are issued for five years. Other permits are issues for one year or two to five years at a time.

Other forest management agreements include 20-year management plans.

Those long-term forest management plans are also typically awarded to companies that don’t’ just harvest wood, but manufacture products too, such as Carrier Forest Products, Tolko Industries, Edgewood Forest Products and Weyerhauser.

Only 16 per cent of the commercial forest is allocated using the shorter-term volume-based license areas.

That means it can be difficult for new players who don’t have an existing allocation to get one in place. With the shortest of timber allocations expiring after a year, it’s up to individual companies to negotiate lumber supply in the interim, and those negotiations could involve large royalty payments or other methods of recouping lost revenue from the unused portion of an allocation.

Speaking to reporters after Tuesday’s meeting, Dionne said he’s suggested solutions where unused allotments get redirected to the new companies, or where companies like Pivot or the proposed biomass manufacturing site receive waste wood not used by other mill sites in Saskatchewan.

He alleged that some product is being burned at other mill sites that these companies could use, and that allowing them to use it would make more sense. He said Prince Albert is on the edge of an economic boom, and if it can get these facilities open, that boom will be here.

“I believe there’s room for all (of them),” he said. “We just have to manage it better.”

The province said allocations of timber have been made to a variety of forestry companies in order to support existing operations.

“We encourage companies with existing timber allocations to trade timber through private commercial agreements in order to ensure that allocations are fully utilized.

Our government continues to work closely with all existing and potential forestry companies, in order to understand their business needs, investment timelines, and related timber requirements in order to support their projects.”