In 2008, the Northern Peninsula timber industry took a turn and people feared it might never recover. The 2011 opening of the Holson Forest Products pellet plant owned by Ted Lewis, gave new hope to concerned loggers.
The $11.7 million investment was expected to produce up to 50,000 tons of pellets annually, but never came close to meeting the projected numbers before closing its doors shortly after they were refitted for pellet production.
Ralph Payne, 64 and vice-chair and acting vice-president of the Loggers Association for District 17 and 18 of the Northern Peninsula wants to know why. He has been working in the Newfoundland forestry industry for the last 49 years and is disappointed with the pellet plant, the new modern idea that could have helped pull the pulpwood industry in the Northern Peninsula out of hard times.
The pellets are considered to be a source carbon neutral energy and, according to the Holson Forestry Products website, the quantity of pellets produced by Holson would have offset over 50,800 tons of green house gases annually. Holson projected producing 50,000 tons of white wood or industrial grade pellets annually.
“We can produce nearly 6,000 tons per month, with the ability to ship to anywhere in the world,” claims the website.
Payne says when the pellet plant first opened, Holson took one or two truck loads of pellets into St. Anthony to be shipped away, but the loggers were soon told this option was not cost effective. A short time later, the plant closed its doors.
When Corner Brook Pulp and Paper decided it would was unfeasible to truck lumber from the Northern Peninsula, Holson had two choices. It could close its doors displacing all of its employees or it could look for other ways to keep the industry alive such as the creation of a pellet production plant.
Before long however, the loggers were told in order for the pellet factory to be cost effective, there would need to be a dock in Roddickton for storing and shipping the pellets.
In a 2011 interview with the Northern Pen, pellet division general manager Todd May addressed the potential hindrance.
“Our only option (for shipping) is St. Anthony at the moment because the dock at Roddickton is not big enough and is in a state of disrepair. But in saying that, there is no temporary or permanent facility and it’s something we have to resolve very quickly,” said May.
Area loggers frustrated with lack of markets
But the issue was not resolved quickly enough and it’s still costing the area’s loggers says Payne.
“They shut down the pellet plant completely, there are no pellets being made over there now because there is no dock in Roddickton,” he said.
He thinks the company is ignoring the obvious alternatives.
“In the meantime, we’ve got a new dock in Main Brook that’s only 38 kilometres away, and could be used for shipping or storing the pellets,” said Payne.
He’s concerned not only with the future of the logging industry, but the multi-million dollar plant not being used and the fact that it could be three years down the road before Roddickton might have a new dock.
“The loggers in the area can’t wait that long to be able to sell their wood again,” he said.
Due to decreased demand for pulpwood products over the last five years, many Northern Peninsula loggers have only been able to cut up to 33 percent of their permits. Last year they were allowed to cut 18 percent of their permits and this year will be under 10 because all they’re allowed to cut is firewood, says Payne.
“The thing about it is,” he said, “is for every direct job that’s created, there’s four indirect jobs come from it. We’re looking at roughly 280 to 300 direct jobs in this area right now that are going to be nailed to the cross because of this plant not working.”
Payne says the loggers association has had several meetings with the company, but they are unable to get an update on what’s happening with the plant and there seems to be very little communication between the owners, the loggers and political parties involved, specifically the Minister of Natural Resources, MHA Jerome Kennedy.
Invitations to government go unheard
Payne has extended several invitations to the minister in hopes of opening the lines of communication and working towards finding a resolution the loggers are able to live with.
“I gave Mr. Kennedy an invitation to come up here in January to meet with the people and as full grown men and women sitting around the table, let’s find a solution to this problem,” said Payne. “It took him three months to reply saying ‘Sorry, I can’t make it.’’
Payne says he and the other loggers in the area are at wit’s end.
“We just can’t operate like this any longer, something has got to happen, it’s time they realize there is life outside the overpass in St. John’s,” he said.
Payne says the area and the Loggers Association are feeling neglected by the provincial government and questions whether or not they are properly performing their duties.
“The problem we have is the lack of responsibility the Minister of Natural Resources and the Premier have shown to this area,” he said.
“The minister couldn’t care less about us, if he has too much on his plate to do justice to this industry, he should resign the position and let someone in who is going to do it,” he added.
The Loggers Association would like to see the Minister of Natural Resources, the Premier and those responsible for the pellet plant to meet with the loggers to discuss and clarify the available options and the future of the pulpwood industry in the Northern Peninsula.
“The plant is there,” said Payne. “If the government came to the table and they ironed out the problems, figured out what they are and the owners let us know what the problems are, they could be handled properly.”
Payne stressed that time is of the essence and the loggers are in need of a suitable solution as soon as possible, but is concerned the company’s owner Ted Lewis may simply no longer be interested in pellet production.
“He’s not showing any initiative that he’s interested in the pellet plant,” said Payne.
But regardless of the company’s position, Payne says the provincial government has a responsibility to the loggers and people of the Northern Peninsula to consider and discuss any and all available options for reviving and planning the future of the pulpwood industry in this part of the province before its workers are forced to find employment elsewhere.
“We’re talking about bread and butter here, not riches fame or fortune, simply bread and butter for our table… so we don’t have to pack up and go away.”