The District of Houston said last week they think the Houston Forest Products’ mill site could become a staging area for LNG projects.
In the wake of the unexpected Oct. 24 announcement to close the West Fraser mill, that directly affected 225 employees, government officials and residents of the Bulkley Valley are struggling to come up with answers and a way to move forward.
“Houston could serve as an important staging area for gas pipeline construction, maintenance and monitoring in the near term and a new non-forest sector plant should be developed on the present West Fraser site given its favourable access to energy, ocean ports, railway and skilled labour,” said a District of Houston press release.
Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad admitted to initially being surprised by the announcement of the Houston mill closure, but said he felt residents could take advantage of the opportunities on the horizon.
Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson said he thought it was dangerous to rely solely on LNG to be the economic saviour for Houston, since none of the projects have even been approved yet, he said.
“None of [the LNG projects] are for sure, and here we have forestry that is for sure, the same with mining. We don’t have any jobs in LNG yet and there are serious questions as to whether there ever will be.
“From my perspective, the focus on LNG for that site is symptomatic of problems within the BC Liberals , where they are putting all their eggs in one basket, on one economic focus for the north,” Donaldson said. “I think this issue of HFP shutting down shows that they haven’t spent enough time on forestry.”
The District of Houston is currently assessing what the next steps are to mitigate the economic damage caused by the mill closure.
They are working with the newly-appointed Community Transition Team, focusing on worker training, economic development and community services.
“It’s easy to be angry or frustrated, and people have a lot of legitimate concerns,” said Houston Deputy Mayor Shane Brienen.
“It’s quite early, it’s only been a week, but people are already looking forward and starting to talk about different options and things we could do.”
The transition team will deliver an inventory of opportunities and a comprehensive plan within 30 days.
Houston Chamber of Commerce president Troy Reitsma said he was still having a hard time swallowing the reason for the closure, and questioned why West Fraser would shut down HFP and upgrade the mill at 100 Mile House.
Reitsma said the 100 Mile House timber supply is 78 per cent pine, and it’s projected that by 2021, 90 per cent of that pine will be unusable.
“We have less than 50 per cent pine here and the projections here are that less than 62 per cent will be affected,” Reitsma said.
“Why is there such a huge upgrade going to 100 Mile House where they don’t have the timber supply that we have here and we’re losing our mill here?
“This is a provincial resource, owned by the province. Why is it that these companies that decide to close their doors can just trade that timber like it’s playing cards? It’s not acceptable.
“There is now going to be one mill in Houston, one mill in Smithers, one mill in Fraser Lake, what’s that going to do to the timber sales competition? Because when West Fraser and Canfor are competing for timber, the prices should be competitive. If nobody else is bidding against Canfor, they’re going to get the timber for their price.”
Rob Newell, Regional District Director for the Houston rural area, said he was also concerned about the lack of competition for timber.
“It creates a monopoly and in effect it restricts competition [with Canfor],” he said.
Houston Forest Products managers have said they expect the mill to close next May. Last week, the Moricetown Band announced the closure of their Kyahwood Forest Products operation, effective immediately.