West Fraser announced their intention to permanently close the Chasm lumber mill and eliminate the third shift from its 100 Mile House lumber mill on June 17.
“We sincerely regret the impact this decision will have on our employees, their families and the affected communities. We will be making efforts to mitigate the effects of this business decision, including opportunities for affected employees to transition to other company locations,” said Ray Ferris, president and chief operating officer.
Clinton’s Mayor Susan Swan said she was not “overly surprised” with the other mill closures in the area, but added that she was disappointed by the news.
The closure of the Chasm sawmill and the elimination of the 100 Mile House location’s third shift will occur in the third quarter.
“This decision is not a reflection of the contributions of our employees, contractors and the communities where these mills operate. It is the result of well-documented timber supply constraints owing to B.C.’s devastating Mountain Pine Beetle infestations, recent record wildfires, price declines in lumber markets and high sawlog costs,” said Ferris.
MLA Donna Barnett said the news is terrible.
“This is still a beautiful place to live. There’s beautiful people, facilities, and infrastructure throughout the South Cariboo. But you know what? If you’re raising a family, you need a steady income. That’s what bothers me,” said Barnett. “This is not about governments fighting against each other. This is about families. This is about real people that need real attention, and I’m disappointed that there isn’t any.”
Chasm’s closure is expected to impact roughly 176 employees, while 34 employees will be affected by 100 Mile House, just a week after the announcement of Norbord’s curtailment of their 100 Mile House location, set for August.
“I think that it’s time that the government came to the table and met with the MLAs affected, that met with the workers affected, that met with the local governments that are affected, not just sending in a transition team to show people how to fill out their unemployment and what their qualifications are and where they may find a job. This is unacceptable,” Barnett said.
100 Mile House Mayor Mitch Campsall told the Free Press that he and his staff will be meeting with provincial officials on the afternoon of June 19 to hash out a solution(s) for the closures and curtailments of mills in the South Cariboo.
“Basically we are going to continue on and it’s going to be rough on the community,” he said. “But as I said before, we are really resilient and we will get through this, but it’s going to be a rough summer for this community.”
Sally Watson, Thompson-Nicola Regional Director (TNRD) for Area E (Bonaparte Plateau), said the news was an “ass-kicker” for Clinton and the South Cariboo community, adding that it was a serious blow.
“I was disappointed and discouraged to get the call from West Fraser. I can’t say it’s a surprise… I hope that we can, as a community that is struggling, I hope we can get help from the senior levels of government to get retrained and perhaps trigger an industry where we can provide jobs for our workers,” she said. “It will take sincere effort from all levels of government and society to replace those jobs.”
Watson also said it was a great time to ask senior levels of government to bridge-fund the building of a hemp-processing plant.
West Fraser’s lumber production is anticipated to be permanently reduced by roughly 314 million board feet as a result of these changes, according to their June 17 news release. In the same release, they state that West Fraser will implement total temporary and permanent capacity curtailments of roughly 125 million and 614 million board feet.
Cache Creek resident Tom Moe has worked at the Chasm mill for nearly four decades. “It’s set to close on Sept. 8, and that will be my 39th anniversary of starting work at the mill.”
Moe says that rumours about the Chasm mill’s possible closure have been swirling since other mills began closing down in the Interior earlier this year.
“Everyone was wondering. Low timber supply in the area is why they’re shutting us down. They can’t supply our mill and 100 Mile mill with enough logs to keep us both running. They’re going to run out the logs they have in the yard now, and then dress all the rough lumber in the yard—dry it, plane it, and ship it—before Sept. 8.”
Moe says that employees were told the news at a meeting on June 17. “Most people were kind of expecting bad news. A couple of guys broke down and were quite upset. A lot of the younger guys were more upset than some of the long-term guys, which is understandable because they don’t have the pensions.
Everybody that’s working now will get severance pay, but they have to work until Sept. 8 to get it. If they leave before then to take another job, they lose it.”
Moe adds that safety incentive bonuses will be paid out on Sept. 8 for anyone who is still working at the mill, to ensure that workers stay safe for the next 12 weeks.
He says that West Fraser is bringing in pension experts and financial planners to talk to the workers. “They’ve formed a transition committee to work with workers one-on-one so they can figure out where to go.
“And they’re offering relocation jobs to anyone who wants them, at their operations in northern B.C. or Alberta. They said that if you’re good enough to work at Chasm, you’re good enough to work anywhere in West Fraser. I don’t think I’ll be relocating, but it’s good for some of the younger guys who aren’t tied down.”
Moe says he’s not really worried, since at just three years to retirement he’ll be getting a pretty good severance package. “Even if I have to find another job for a couple of years, I’m not going to stress about it right now.”
He adds that he doesn’t have any hard feelings towards West Fraser.
“They’re doing all they can to make it a smooth transition. Between fires and beetle kill, we’re running out of wood. I don’t think we’ll be the last mill to go.
“I’ve worked there since I was 19 years old. It’s the only job I’ve ever really had. It’s going to be kind of tough walking out of there on the last day.”
With files from Barbara Roden of the Ashcroft Journal.