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Canadian sawmill destroyed in January blast could be rebuilt

20 September 2012

The owners of the Burns Lake sawmill in British Columbia that was destroyed in an explosion last January said on September 17 they would rebuild it providing the province could follow through on commitments to ensure a timber supply was made available to feed the mill, according to the Vancouver Sun.

Operations to clear wreckage from the Babine Forest Products site are continuing
Operations to clear wreckage from the Babine Forest Products site are continuing

Steve Zika, chief executive officer of owners Hampton Affiliates, said the company wanted to rebuild the Babine Forest Products mill and would make a final investment decision in early December after a thorough evaluation of the timber supply situation.

"The decision taken by the Hampton family was not an easy one due to the precarious timber supply situation brought about by the pine beetle that has ravaged forests throughout British Columbia," Zika said at a news conference held at Burns Lake.

The loss of the mill in an explosion and fire on January 20 had a serious effect on employment in the area and the announcement that a new, if smaller, sawmill might be rebuilt was considered extremely positive news by the community.

To find the timber in the Burns Lake area, the government is prepared to take a number of steps, all of which add up to a much more managed approach to the region's timber resource, including harvesting timber that up until now had been considered uneconomic and pledging to find money for silviculture work in the region.

According to the Vancouver Sun, the main obstacle the new mill would face is lumber prices. It would require one million cubic metres of timber a year and has only 500,000 cubic metres in Hampton's existing licences. The government has found 600,000 cubic metres within the Lakes timber supply area, but 380,000 cubic metres is in forests that up until now had been considered uneconomic.

Pat Bell, minister of jobs, tourism and innovation, said on September 17 that the low-valued stands are economic at certain points in the lumber cycle, and that Hampton is confident lumber prices will be high enough when the mill is completed in early 2014 to justify harvesting.

John Allan, president of the B.C. Council of Forest Industries, said the industry's main concerns — that the province would take timber supply from one mill and allocate it to another, and that it would unilaterally open up forest reserves set aside from logging — appear to have been avoided in the proposal.

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