By Don Bodger, originally printed in the Cowichan Valley Citizen on Jan 5, 2024
Letter to Minister Rolston outlines important factors into mill’s operation
Concerns about the Paper Excellence Catalyst Crofton pulp mill’s frequent curtailments in the past year are mounting not only for the workers, but for the Municipality of North Cowichan.
Mayor Rob Douglas has written a letter to B.C. Minister of Forests Bruce Ralston requesting enhanced provincial support for the Crofton mill and its workers represented by Public and Private Workers of Canada Local 2 and Unifor Local 1132.
The paper side of the operation at the mill has been under curtailment since June 30, 2023 that remains in effect until at least the end of February, 2024. PPWC workers in the pulp sector were curtailed for three months last summer before operations resumed in October 2023.
“With the current challenges in the global pulp and paper market, we are increasingly concerned about the long-term future of this site, which is both our biggest employer and taxpayer in North Cowichan and the broader Cowichan region,” writes Douglas. “To lose the Crofton pulp and paper mill would be devastating to our residents who are directly and indirectly dependent on Paper Excellence for their employment and to our Municipality, which annually receives $4.5 million in property taxes from Paper Excellence, accounting for more than 13 per cent of our tax base.”
Douglas delved into specific operational aspects and policies impacting the mill’s sustainability and productivity, including the following:
• Coast Fibre Recovery Zone Maintenance: “We understand that the FRZ has helped increase the availability of pulp logs by ensuring more comprehensive utilization of logs and reducing waste in the bush. This zone is crucial for supplying economical pulp logs to the mill. We urge the continuation and possibly the expansion of this zone to sustain and enhance these benefits,” he pointed out.
• Forest Enhancement Society of BC Funding: “The FESBC plays a pivotal role in facilitating the utilization of wood that would otherwise be uneconomical. For instance, we understand the funding provided to the Atli Chip Plant near Port McNeill has been critical, and that without this support, the plant, which supplies chips to both the Howe Sound Pulp & Paper and Crofton mills, would face operational challenges due to the scarcity of pulp logs. A long term commitment to FESBC funding would support continuity and expansion of such projects.”
• Support for the Sawmill Sector: “The success of pulp mills like Crofton is closely linked to a robust sawmill sector. Issues such as the backlog of cutting permits, currently numbering around 700 provincially, and the performance of BC Timber Sales, are major concerns. These issues reduce the overall wood availability and impact the supply of residual chips, vital for the Crofton mill’s operations. Prompt resolution of these issues is critical for maintaining a steady log flow.”
• Promotion of Commercial Thinning Practices: “Following insights from successful international models like Finland, we advocate for increased commercial thinning in B.C. This practice not only enhances fibre production but also serves as an effective fire management tool, reducing wildfire risks. Implementing such practices will benefit both the industry and the communities.”
• Enhanced Support for the Wildfire Risk Reduction Program: “While the WRR program has predominantly been focused on the interior regions, its applicability and expansion to coastal areas are becoming increasingly important due to longer, drier summers and heightened wildfire risks. The program’s effectiveness in regions like the Kootenays, where it has aided in fireproofing communities and reducing wildfire intensity, should be a model for similar initiatives on the coast.”
The combined impact of these specific areas of focus is vital for the continued success and sustainability of the Crofton mill and the high-paying unionized jobs it provides in North Cowichan and the regional economy, Douglas added.
He’s looking forward to collaborative efforts involving North Cowichan, Crofton mill workers and the broader community towards innovative and sustainable forestry practices that align with provincial goals by bringing this to the Ministry’s attention.