Proposals for wood use under review for over five months
Tom Marshall. — Telegram file photo
The trees grow and the cut wood lies unused as the government continues to review proposals for the use of timber in central Newfoundland and central Labrador.
The resource in Central was once tied to the Abitibi paper mill in Grand Falls-Windsor and the provincial government has been looking at options for its use since 2009.
The Department of Natural Resources issued a second call for expressions of interest on the timber in February. The call closed in late March. To date, there has been no decision on the 14 proposals received.
On Monday, Natural Resources Minister Tom Marshall said submissions have — and continue to be — reviewed by a committee of government staff, including representatives from: Finance, Justice, Natural Resources, Innovation, Business and Rural Development.
“They narrowed it down to five (options),” he said, adding more information was then sought on some proposals. “They have it reduced now to a few.”
The committee has now requested more detailed business proposals from those few.
Marshall said he could not say at this point when the timber rights might ultimately be awarded.
Muskrat Falls wood unused
In central Newfoundland, the wait has been ongoing for years, but the question of what will be done with the timber resource in central Labrador is more pressing.
Timber rights being offered up to new owners there have tied in a request for use of the wood being cut for construction work of the new hydroelectric dam at Muskrat Falls.
The wood is currently being cut and stacked in clearings and left for the government to deal with — as much work as is required under the project’s permits.
The stacking began over half a year ago with no answers yet emerging as to what will be done with it. Not all trees being cleared will be of value for sawlogs or high-value secondary processing, but the overall timber resource is big - about half a million cubic metres from the reservoir alone.
Marshall said this week there were seven responses received for the call for proposals for the timber in Labrador. That was also true when the call closed on April 26.
And yet, he said, the proposals have not been sitting on a desk since that time. The same multi-departmental approach taken with the Central Newfoundland timber rights was undertaken in this case, with the addition of Labrador Affairs to the mix.
Following an initial review, Marshall said, the committee went back to companies for supplementary information to their business proposals.
He said he expects a decision to be made at some point in the fall.
No word on potentially viable options
A statement provided to The Telegram in the spring from the provincial Department of Natural Resources said government staff had been looking at what to do with the trees being cut as part of Muskrat Falls construction “over the past number of years.”
Staff at Nalcor Energy said the issue was reviewed through the environmental assessment process, with the conclusion being no market for the wood could be identified.
When asked about the issue in May, project lead Gilbert Bennett said there have been changes since the environmental assessment and the provincial government’s call for expressions of interest may identify opportunities to make some use of the wood.
One proposal was floated when the project was still under regulatory review.
The Innu Development Limited Partnership made a presentation to the Joint Review Panel suggesting "a forest processing operation composed of a wood pellet manufacturing facility and/or a lumber/chipping mill." The facility would cost $20 million to $30 million, but would have started operations in 2012. The proposal was ultimately not accepted.