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First Nation contractor digs into the resource sector

Mine site reclamation work has been a saving grace for White Lake Resources Corporation, a contracting company owned by the Pic Mobert First Nation.

Mine site reclamation work has been a saving grace for White Lake Resources Corporation, a contracting company owned by the Pic Mobert First Nation.

When the forest industry tanked on the north shore of Lake Superior, so did the company, which had been harvesting wood for Marathon Pulp before the mill went bankrupt and closed in 2009.

For White Lake, it was a classic case of a company putting all its eggs on one basket.

The reborn firm is on more solid footing with a more diversified base of work.

Norm Jaehrling, the corporation’s CEO, said the Marathon closure “financially gutted” the corporation, leaving it in limbo with a stack of unpaid bills. It was only after some deep dialogue by band administration, under new chief Johanna Desmoulin, that the decision was made not to dismantle the company but rebuild it.

The faces were freshened on a new independent board of directors and proper management systems were put in place.

With limited financial resources, the corporation took on small contracts, like Hydro One corridor clearing projects, to get revenue flowing and to demonstrate that they could carry out a contract.

“We had to show that we could slowly grow into executing larger projects,” said Jaerhling. Within two years the company was engaged in site reclamation, working at Barrick Gold’s decommissioned Golden Giant Mine at the nearby Hemlo complex.

“We’ve been providing heavy equipment and personnel to haul material, grade the site and re-contour it,” said Jaehrling.

With Barrick’s David Bell Mine scheduled to close later this year and an abundance of development activity occurring on their doorstep, Jaehrling said there’s no shortage of opportunity and projects to bid on.

“The area that we’re focusing on, where we’ve shown competencies, is on the reclamation side,” said Jaerhrling. “It’s something that builds our ability in heavy civil construction.” The corporation employs 20 full and part-time employees with the ability and heavy equipment to provide contract labour for site preparation, road and civil construction, brushing, clearing and providing site security.

“We’ve gone from an organization that two to three years ago did $100,000 worth of revenue to one that will do over $1 million this year.”

The board has instructed them to look at joint venture opportunities wherever possible.

They’ve landed site clearing and road construction jobs for the development of the Gitchi Animki Hydroelectric Project, a joint venture between Pic Mobert and Regional Power to build two generating stations on the White River.

The company is also partnering with Norpro to provide security at the construction site. “Among our goals is to build a local workforce and that means investing in people and giving them a chance to learn on the job,” said Jaehrling. “We want to continue other business opportunities that are logical within our traditional territory and we want to use our current base of contracts with the companies that are close to us to establish these (Aboriginal) companies and build their track record and credibility so we can pursue business outside of this area.”

As a 24 per cent stakeholder in the revived White River Forest Products sawmill, Pic Mobert established a new venture late last year, Maygwayyak Forestry Service, to cut half the mill’s Crown wood allocation – roughly 300,000 cubic metres annually – an opportunity that was not available under the mill’s previous ownership.

“Nobody from the community was ever involved in the harvesting process,” said Jaehrling, “so this is a huge step forward for this community.”