The waiting is the hardest part about the latest delay in re-opening the Valemount Slocan saw mill, according to the town’s mayor.
“For the community and for the workers there’s nothing worse than being in limbo,” said Jeanette Townsend. “If a closure were announced, you get knocked into the bottom of a pit, but then you get up, dust yourself off and start working your way out of it.”
The mill hasn’t been closed permanently, though. At least that’s the official line.
But Slocan CEO Jim Shepherd announced this week the shutdown that has mothballed the mill since last July will continue indefinitely.
With the new year had come new hope in Valemount, a community of 1,300 about three hours east of Prince George.
A committee of employees, managers, contractors and community members had crafted a restructuring plan that would have seen the mill open on a test basis by the end of March. Shepherd accepted their plan in January.
Those plans have now been put on hold, said Warren Oja, business agent with the IWA’s Kamloops local, and a member of the committee. The bad news came after a number of “market neuroses” combined to temporarily kill the business case for the re-opening, he said.
“The market’s gone into the tank and the dollar has taken off. Those things put us in a tenuous spot. Starting in negative ground is not a good place to be.”
At $209 per thousand board feet, the price of lumber was low in January. But not low enough to stop the mill from opening. A weak Canadian dollar helped the financial picture at the time as well.
Now, with the dollar jumping from around $0.64 U.S. to $0.68 and lumber prices dropping to around $165 per thousand, no financial argument could be made for re-opening the mill, said Townsend.
“I understand Mr. Shepherd’s position. One can’t expect anyone to commence production at a loss.”
Valemount remains bowed but not broken, she said.
“We’ve survived bad times before. We’ll survive them again.”
The saw mill used to employ about 90 people. The spinoff effects on contractors and others who depend on the forest industry meant the shutdown of the mill has affected around 40 per cent of the households in town, said Townsend.
Meanwhile, a resort development planned for Canoe Mountain in Valemount is still awaiting provincial government approval before it can proceed.
Sunrise International Ltd., an Edmonton-based developer, proposes an $80 million destination resort. It is expected to take 12 years to complete, and should create up to 165 direct jobs and a similar number of indirect jobs.