The Town of Fort Frances, ON, became alarmed at the end of October that talks between Resolute Forest Products, Expera Specialty Solutions of Wisconsin, and the Province of Ontario regarding the acquisition of the local kraft mill, had broken off. The town said Expera has indicated a strong interest in acquiring the facility from Resolute, which would have resulted in 200 jobs at the facility and another 800 related to its operations, said the Fort Frances Times.
The town also believed the acquisition could go beyond a re-start of kraft mill operations and potentially involve remaining assets, including the paper machines. The town had learned over the past two years, through extensive research and consultation, that the Fort Frances mill should be operational in a very productive wood basket known as the best forest in Ontario.
At a press conference in the media room in Queen’s Park Wednesday, Fort Frances Mayor Roy Avis, along with Chiefs Sara Mainville and Patricia Big George, all made the case in front of the cameras to transfer the operation of the Crossroute Forest away from Resolute and begin the process of creating a community-based Enhanced Sustainable Forest operated by the communities, harvesters, and users of the wood fibre, according to Fort Frances Times.
Premier Grilled in Legislature
Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath pressed Premier Kathleen Wynne and Natural Resources and Forestry minister Bill Mauro during Question Period in the provincial Legislature Tuesday morning to transform the management model for the Crossroute Forest to a modern structure that would see all communities and stakeholders participate in forest management timber allocation decisions.
According to CBC October 21, town officials in Fort Frances said negotiations between a US company and Resolute Forest Products for the sale of Resolute’s idled Fort Frances kraft mill had broken off.
The town said it has been advised, on numerous occasions, that there is a specified allocation of wood for the mill in Fort Frances that still exists.
With that being the case, the town is asking why a willing buyer can’t purchase the facility and acquire wood at a reasonable cost?
The answer is that a single entity, Quebec-based Resolute Forest Products, controls the cost of the wood in this area.
Over the past year, the district municipalities and First Nation communities have lobbied the province for a model that would see all communities and stakeholders participate in the decisions related to forest management.
The town said it was advised in August by Forests Minister Bill Mauro that the government would not be implementing this enhanced sustainable forest license model for the Crossroute Forest.
Mauro indicated this model needed to evolve over time.
This was the same message the town said it received from Resolute regarding the implementation of this model.
In a news release, the town said Expera, a specialty paper business, had indicated “a strong interest” in buying the mill, which would restore hundreds of jobs. The statement blamed the failure of negotiations on the fact that Expera Specialty Solutions needs to be able to acquire fibre at a reasonable cost.
The release said that for the past year, Fort Frances district municipalities and First Nations have lobbied the Ontario government for a model that would see all stakeholders participate in forest management decisions.
The opposition parties called on the Ontario government Wednesday to change the rules on control of Crown forests to help save a pulp mill in Fort Frances, and up to one thousand jobs.
The Progressive Conservatives and NDP said Resolute Forest Products is blocking the sale of the shuttered mill to Expera because it still controls the timber surrounding the town near the Manitoba border.
The Town of Fort Frances statement said it understands ministerial orders can be enacted to re-allocate fibre.
Mauro told CBC News he’s disappointed the talks failed. He said the province offered to secure the wood supply but that was just one of the sticking points.
“The security of the fibre would not have been in question for them, but of course the price point was still something they would have had to negotiate on a business-to-business level,” he said.
A spokesperson for Expera said in an e-mail to CBC News that the company does not comment on any potential business transaction it is participating in.
During Question Period at Queens Park, Sarah Campbell, NDP MPP for Kenora-Rainy River, sought answers from Bill Mauro the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, said NetNewsledger Wednesday.
Campbell asked, “Fort Frances was devastated when their local mill idled in 2012. Now there is renewed hope, given that a company is looking to purchase the mill. Getting the mill up and running could mean 200 direct and 1,000 spinoff jobs, as well as a $100-million annual injection into the economy.
Resolute vice-president of communications Seth Kursman told CBC in an e-mail that the company “has made a significant effort to reposition the mill, exploring opportunities with multiple parties for a possible successor owner.”
Kursman added that Resolute has also spent over $10 million keeping the mill heated for two winters in order to protect the assets. His e-mail concluded “We will continue to consider options.”
In a media statement the NDP said, “Despite Expera expressing it is no longer pursuing the purchase of the mill because of provincial roadblocks, the Premier did not answer Campbell’s questions, instead passing them to the Minister of Natural Resources who in turn refused to take responsibility for failing to provide the Enhanced Sustainable Forestry License”.