It was a good news announcement for Hawke’s Bay on Thursday, Nov. 29.
That community on the Great Northern Peninsula (GNP) has been chosen as the site for construction of a plant to manufacture wood pellets.
The announcement came just six days after the province confirmed it had finalized a deal for lease of timber lands on the GNP to Active Energy Group (AEG) Pic, and its subsidiary Timberlands International (Newfoundland and Labrador) Inc.
The official announcement on Thursday spelled out some of the details.
Timberland has been issued two five-year commercial cutting permits, totaling 100,000 m3 annually (500,000 m3 over five years) in Forest Management Districts 17 and 18, the official press released stated.
“A condition of the cutting permits is that 25 per cent of the harvest be made available to commercial sawmillers for first right of refusal. Wood fibre requirements of 148,000 m3 would be provided via the cutting permits and by purchase from existing forest operators,” the province explained in its release.
The proposed plant at Hawke’s Bay will produce 55,000-65,000 metric tonnes of CoalSwitch wood pellets per year for export to Poland through the local port.
The province said the company has an agreement with Cobant, a Polish research, development and coal recovery/production company, to provide wood pellets to supplement coal for use in Poland’s residential heating market.
According to the province’s news release, “The project is expected to create at least 25 full-time positions associated with plant operations, and 30-50 positions in harvesting and trucking.”
Hawke's Bay mayor Garcien Plowman was thrilled with the news.
"We're ecstatic to see it come here," he told reporter Evan Careen. "Over the past two years all we heard is that it's going to Roddickton; for it to end up over here is a godsend for us."
He sees an opportunity for skilled workers to move home, in an area that has suffered greatly from outmigration over the years.
Along with jobs, it means a new tax base for the town and, he hopes, spinoff businesses, including for local forestry contractors.
And he believes Hawke's Bay isn't the only town on the Great Northern Peninsula who will see benefits.
Plowman points out the town's population is just 310 people and it won't be able to fill all the jobs at the pellet plant itself.
"We’ve heard 25 jobs, up to 30, we can’t fill all those," he said. "We don’t have enough people in the community to fill those jobs so there will be opportunity for people outside of the community there."
Furthermore, he says forestry contractors on the other side of the Great Northern Peninsula stand to benefit.
According to Plowman, while there are some contractors in forestry district 17 (where Hawke's Bay is located), most are actually located in district 18 (which includes towns such as Roddickton-Bide Arm).
Plowman also revealed that the town did not know the pellet plant would be coming there until it was announced on Nov 29.
"In the last week or so we had some talks with Active Energy so we were hoping to hear that announcement," he said. "We weren’t notified beforehand."
However, the announcement left some other community leaders on the GNP feeling a bit disappointed.
Roddickton-Bide Arm mayor Sheila Fitzgerald told The Northern Pen on Friday she was hoping to learn for certain that her town was a part of Active Energy’s plans.
But the pellet plant is going to Hawke’s Bay and there was nothing in the news release on whether the sawmill would be operating in Roddickton-Bide Arm.
“We were totally left out,” she told The Northern Pen. “We never even got a formal invitation (to the official announcement). Christopher Mitchelmore (MHA) left a message with forestry, who called the town office in Hawke’s Bay, who called our office. Our own MHA didn’t even call us to invite us to the news release.”
Fitzgerald felt the provincial government should have withheld the timber permits until it had confirmation that the Holson sawmill would be up and running in Roddickton-Bide Arm.
That sawmill hasn’t been operational since 2012.
Now, she’s uncertain whether her community will be a part of any plans.
“Nothing is put down in writing,” she said. “And I’m not going to believe that we can be rest assured until we got something in writing confirming they’re invested in this for the long haul.”
Fitzgerald was hopeful the Active Energy operation would revitalize the town’s economy, which historically has been dependent on the forestry sector.
Meanwhile, St. Anthony is also feeling a little left out.
Town leaders had hoped Active Energy would use the St. Anthony port to ship their product out.
However, it appears the company most of the shipping will be done directly from Hawke’s Bay.
Mayor Desmond McDonald expressed disappointment with how the process unfolded.
He noted that during the St. Anthony and Area Chamber of Commerce meeting on Oct 30, Active Energy representive Richard Spinks said they would use the St. Anthony port to ship product.
McDonald wonders what facilitated the sudden change within the past few weeks.
“Yesterday’s announcement was completely against everything we were told,” he told The Northern Pen. “I know plans change, but did they change that fast, in the manner of weeks?”
He was skeptical the company would do much shipping from St. Anthony.
“In the initial construction phase there may some stuff that may come through the port,” he said. “St. Anthony being an international container port probably would be a good access point for him. Whether he’ll actually ship stuff out of St. Anthony, I have no idea. We haven’t gotten a call from Mr. Spinks since the announcement was made.”
Both Fitzgerald and McDonald said they were happy for Hawke’s Bay and the region.
McDonald called it a “great economic development piece for the Northern Peninsula”.
Fitzgerald also stressed she was glad for Hawke’s Bay.
“Hawke’s Bay needs it just as bad as we do.”
Plowman, for his part, credits Fitzgerald for being such a big advocate for the forestry sector on the Great Northern Peninsula.
“I wouldn’t want to develop animosity, we have to work together,” he added. “There are other opportunities in this for communities.”