A failure to secure a wood allocation from the province has delayed plans for a wood pellet plant near Mattawa.
BioSila purchased the former Tembec facility in September last year from the Mattawa-Bonfield Economic Development Corp. (MBEDC) with plans to go into production early next year. However, no work has commenced on the site which has been idle since Tembec ceased operations in 2008. In 2009, MBEDC purchased the sawmill from Tembec for $1.
Brian Gard, BioSila director of strategic planning and operations, said the company plans to move forward.
“We had an original plan with an original CEO that included producing 320,000 tonnes of biomass per year at the Mattawa site,” he said. “Unfortunately, that was predicated on the belief that we were going to get an allocation through the ministry (of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry) but that didn't happen.”
According to a spokesperson for the ministry, the former Tembec mill had a commitment of Crown timber coming from three management units – Temagami, Nipissing Forest and Algonquin Park Forest. The wood was included in the recent wood supply competition but BioSila was not successful in securing it.
The timber formerly allocated to the sawmill was offered to existing sawmills in the region through proposals submitted in the competition.
“We had to rethink whether we were going to go ahead or not but we just took a positive outlook on it and just said we would,” Gard said.
The CEO originally with the company has since left.
“We now have two investors who are ready to move forward and we are just finishing up our detailed process information to determine whether we can be profitable at about 90,000 tonnes per year and it looks like we will be,” he said.
“Once the decision is made, the plan is to have the plant open by May of next year.”
BioSila has a customer in the U.S. that is a large power generation company that wants to buy biomass to mix with coal. The wood supply is to come from private sources.
“We are paying the bills every month to float the site while we decided whether it should go ahead or not and I think we have a business. I think there is something to be done there,” Gard said.
Robert Corriveau, mayor of Papineau-Cameron Twp. and chairman of the MBEDC, said all stakeholders were led to believe the wood supply tied to the former mill would remain with the new owners.
“The government gave us in writing, assurances that we had a wood allocation,” Corriveau said. “But four months afterward, (the ministry) came out with the wood allocation process. BioSila did not qualify so they didn't get any and the whole plan of taking over the wood and giving it to people who are going to create jobs is a total fiasco and has failed miserably.”
Despite the lack of activity at the site, Corriveau remains optimistic the facility will be operational.
“I am hoping it goes ahead but I am not sold on it until they start doing some work and committing themselves financially,” he said.
BioSila was the only company to come to the table and until the mill was sold, the MBEDC had to pay the maintenance costs and it had no funds to market it. Attempts to secure government funding to assist in those costs were unsuccessful.
“We are a non-profit organization and we had to support ourselves,” Corriveau said. “It was tough. When we bought it, the maximum we could hold on to it was two years. We did it in about 15 months but it did cost us $200,000.”
Selling it was a success for the MBEDC and Corriveau said the site was saved from destruction and still holds the possibility of creating jobs down the road.
“We hope for the best and we do know these projects can take time. BioSila owns the site now and it is out of our hands. It does look positive but how quickly anything will happen is something else. A lot of stuff has to come together,” he said.