St. Anthony -
Isaac Tatchell couldn't have gotten better news last Friday.
The Reef's Harbour forestry contractor learned he'll have a buyer for the 40 tractor-trailer loads of wood he's stockpiled and that he'll have work into the foreseeable future.
Tatchell, forestry workers and local leaders all gave Holson Forest Products owner Ted Lewis a standing ovation when he rose to announce the pellet plant, new sawmill and wood inventory yard he'll be building with the $10 million he's receiving from the province.
Of the funding announced at a news conference at his Roddickton sawmill, the Department of Natural Resources will provide a $7-million non-interest bearing loan to be paid back within 15 years and a $2-million grant. The Department of Environment, meanwhile, is contributing $1 million under its Green Fund toward the wood pellet plant.
"Look outside at that load of wood - it's not pulpwood to be trucked off the coast, but energy wood to be processed into pellets right here," Lewis told the crowd. "This is the first time that this industry has an opportunity to be a stand alone forest industry on the Great Northern Peninsula."
It's been a long road for the peninsula's forest industry, which in 2008 directly employed 250 people. Logs big enough to be milled are intermixed with smaller trees on the peninsula.
Previously the smaller trees had been shipped to Corner Brook Pulp and Paper, but when the company sought to cut costs nearly three years ago to stay open, it stopped taking peninsula wood, which has to be shipped longer distances.
Without anyone to buy their smaller wood, harvesters couldn't afford to cut saw logs and accordingly Lewis had no supply for the mill. Government subsidized the sale of pulp wood for two years but ended that subsidy this season - leaving 250 loggers, truckers and sawmill workers wondering if they'd have to head West.
The pellet plant and government's contribution, which made it possible, is the proposed solution. Smaller trees can be converted into wood pellets for home heating and energy generation while larger trees will be milled at Lewis's sawmill.
"We will see a 40,000-tonne wood pellet manufacturing plant constructed that is expected to be up and running in the winter of 2010," said Straits and White Bay North MHA Trevor Taylor. "The installation of new equipment at Holson Forest Products will enable the company to improve its overall operating capacity. Production is expected to begin once the equipment has undergone a series of trials and testing.
The development of the wood inventory yard will see approximately 30 harvesters go to work immediately, stockpiling product for when the rest of the operation comes in full production."
The independent wood harvesters, like Tatchell, who form the Northern Peninsula Forest Resources Association, have campaigned for Lewis's proposal for two years. Through letter writing, meetings with government ministers and most recently a protest on Route 430, they have fought for a solution for their industry.
"It's good news," said Tatchell, as he waited for the announcement. "I suppose it is - they wouldn't have all this food here if they didn't have something good to tell us."
Area mayors and economic development people were also on hand, hoping that a solution had finally been found for smaller wood - Roddickton already has a failed electricity generating plant and non-operating chip board plant, ownership for which has been the subject of a lengthy legal battle.
"Government has faith in this company," explained Natural Resources Minister Kathy Dunderdale on government's willingness to invest in a new solution. "This company has showed valuable leadership in the face of the turbulent forest industry."
Roddickton-Bide Arm Mayor Ray Norman, meanwhile, just seemed happy to have his residents going back to work.
"For the area North of Hawkes Bay this means a lot of people won't have to worry - sawmills won't close, people won't have to leave and the economy will be more stable than it's been in a long time," said Norman.
"Without this, everything we might try to do as community leaders would be a lost cause. It had been looking desperate."