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Sawmill gone for good

Interfor investigating purchase offers for waterfront land John French Chief Staff Writer International Forest Products (Interfor) gave up this week on its Squamish sawmill.

Interfor investigating purchase offers for waterfront land

John French

Chief Staff Writer

International Forest Products (Interfor) gave up this week on its Squamish sawmill.

The mill, which hasn't operated since April 1 of last year, won't be reopening, company vice-president Jack Draper and mill manager Ron Sander told workers at a crew meeting at the mill Tuesday (Aug. 31).

"We said we would make a final decision on the future of the mill by Sept. 15 at the latest," Interfor CEO Duncan Davies said in a news release.

"We have concluded that the mill, as it currently stands, does not meet the standard required to operate successfully on the coast. With the issues related to the age and design of the facility and the capital required to upgrade it, we couldn't see a long-term role for Squamish."

Steve Crombie, Interfor's public affairs and communications director, said that the company took a very hard look at the Squamish mill and tried to find a way to keep the mill in operation.

"A lot of effort went into figuring out how to get it going," Crombie said. "The crew worked very hard there. They are good guys. They were unfortunately in the wrong place. It really had nothing to do with the ability of the crew or work ethic of the crew. They tried and tried. That mill was down for a year in '98-'99 and they managed to get it going and worked to keep it going.

"It is a casualty of what has been happening on the west coast for the last decade or so."

The decision was announced on the same day as an important judgement in the softwood lumber dispute with the U.S. went in Canada's favour. Countervailing duties of up to 27 per cent against Canadian softwood lumber imports which were first imposed in 2001 were cited as one of the factors behind the decision to curtail Squamish Lumber's operations in 2003.

The 48 employees who chose to stay with Interfor in case the mill reopened are being offered severance packages. The same packages were offered earlier to hose employees who wanted to cut their ties with the company and move onto other employment opportunities.

At its height, the mill employed 185 workers.

Crombie said that there will be future employment opportunities for the Squamish workers who are willing to relocate or travel to Interfor's Western Whitewood (3W) sawmill in New Westminster. Along with announcing the closure of the Squamish mill, Interfor announced that it is going to spend $25 million on upgrades to 3W.

Crombie noted that Interfor considered upgrading its Squamish mill but he said the old mill's design made updating two or three times more expensive than the upgrade planned for 3W.

On Wednesday (Sept. 1), Interfor announced that completed a deal to purchase three sawmills in the Pacific Northwest along with shares in Klamath Northern Railway. The mills are located in Port Angeles and Marysville, Wash. and Gilchrist, Ore.

The idled mill in Squamish is slated to officially close on Oct. 31. Crombie said that Interfor has not decided what it will do with the mill, but added that the company received several unsolicited expressions of interest regarding the site.

"The interest has been for the redevelopment of the land," said Crombie. "We'll have to have a look at that and see if they are serious inquiries."

The fate of the infrastructure on the land isn't decided either. Crombie said the equipment will likely be sent to other Interfor and anything that can't be used within the company will likely be sold.

Mayor Ian Sutherland said that while closure of the mill came as a shock the land has excellent potential for future development.

"It is a prime piece of real estate," Sutherland said. "What will happen to it is still up in the air. When Interfor talked to us yesterday (Aug. 31) they said that we will have a voice in it."

The property is on the waterfront and sits in close proximity to Hwy. 99. The site is well suited for development that includes commercial, residential and recreation components and with a quarry already in existence on the property along with the existing waterfront loading infrastructure, other industrial companies may be interested in the property.

"The positive in this is that Squamish as a community has people that are interested in business growth," Sutherland said. "We have the interest in the site and we might be able to transform it into more jobs."

The opportunities that will soon become available at the Interfor mill site come at an interesting time for Squamish in light of the fact that the Nexen lands are about to undergo redevelopment. The District of Squamish is the owner of the land and the DOS will oversee the development through the development corporation.

Sutherland said developers will have choice if development of the mill site and the Nexen lands overlap.