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Main Brook sawmill stops taking logs, lays off workers

From left, Roddickton Mayor Sheila Fitzgerald, Main Brook sawmill owner Ed Coates and wood contractors Wally Gobbins, Keon Weir, Trevor Filliers and Randall Tatchell (not pictured) got together over the weekend to discuss the declining state of the forestry industry and are demanding answers from the provincial government on why there is yet to be a final decision on a pellet plant for the area.
From left, Roddickton-Bide Arm Mayor Sheila Fitzgerald, Main Brook sawmill owner Ed Coates and wood contractors Wally Gibbons, Keon Weir, Trevor Fillier and Randall Tatchell (not pictured) got together over the weekend to discuss the declining state of the forestry industry and are demanding answers from the provincial government on why there is yet to be a final decision on a pellet plant for the area. - Contributed

Northern Peninsula forestry reaches a “boiling point” awaiting a provincial government decision on pellet plant: Roddickton-Bide Arm Mayor Sheila Fitzgerald

The CEO of a company proposing a pellet plant for the Roddickton-Main Brook area says a government decision on the business is imminent, but that is not giving much comfort to local officials and harvesters who have been waiting for the pellet plant deal to be sealed since May 2017.

“We believe that the forestry industry is at a boiling point, I don’t know if we would even go so far as to say a melting point,” said Sheila Fitzgerald, Roddickton-Bide Arm mayor.

Last week, Ed Coates, owner of Coates Lumber, a saw mill in Main Brook stopped buying logs from wood contractors and laid off seven of the mill’s nine employees. His stockpile of lumber, he said, is just too great; he can’t sell what he already has much less take on more.

Fitzgerald attributes the fate of forestry to a more generalized economic malaise.

“It’s kind of a supressed economy, there’s not a whole lot of money in these parts right now, so people are not building homes and sheds and the requirement for lumber is not the same as if we had an active industry,” she said.

Trevor Fillier, a wood contractor and president of the Northern Peninsula Loggers Association, noted that if things don’t turn around soon, for some people the only option will be to move away.

“I got three of us on now, well, I laid off one feller, and now I’m gonna have to sit back myself ‘cause the other feller, if I don’t try to keep him on and have work for him, he’s gotta leave,” Fillier said.

Wally Gibbons, another contractor who currently employs four people, is just hanging on from day to day, he said. The only ray of hope is the tentative agreement between Active Energy Group (AEG) and the province on a 20-year forestry lease covering most of the Northern Peninsula that would allow the company to upgrade and re-open an existing pellet plant in the area.

Richard Spinks, Active Energy CEO, told the Northern Pen the plant will create 45 direct jobs and a significant economic trickle-down effect.

“If AEG comes in here, I could probably go up to six or seven guys,” Gibbons said.

According to Spinks, there is cause for optimism. He said he received a letter from the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources at the end of July saying there would be a decision this month.

Fitzgerald is not holding her breath. She said the department told town officials and contractors in May that the deal is a priority for the government and she is afraid it is going to continue to drag on.

“We’ve been patiently waiting for four months for this announcement,” she said. “If it was a priority, how come it’s not done by now, 16 weeks later?”

Spinks said he understands the frustration, but had nothing but praise for the government, which he said has been working diligently on making it happen.

“I just think that it’s a question of people not knowing and I think soon enough, we’re all going to know one way or the other.”

Spinks noted that while it seems like a long time, people don’t appreciate what it has taken. He said not only did the province have to negotiate the specific deal, but it had to update the entire regulatory regime.

“The amount of work that’s gone into this by your government over the last 14 months is unfathomable by the population because they don’t see the work that had to be done to make this possible in the way that it needed to be restructured,” he said. “Your industry needed to be restructured and the tenure process needed to be restructured.”

He said that while it seems, understandably, like a long time to people whose livelihoods are on the line, in his experience with governments around the world, it has not been comparatively long.

The Northern Pen contacted fisheries and land resources for confirmation the decision is imminent and for comment on the local situation, but did not receive a response by press time.

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