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Proposed Bonfield sawmill loses bid for licence

International Wood Industries had proposed $145-million operation east of North Bay

Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry will not be issuing an operating licence to International Wood Industries for its proposed sawmill in Bonfield, east of North Bay.

The ministry posted its decision to the Environmental Registry on March 31, noting the proponent withdrew the application.

“We are not proceeding with issuing a forest resource processing facility licence to Bonfield Forest Products Incorporated to authorize the construction of the proposed sawmill facility,” the ministry wrote in a succinct update to the site.

In an email to Northern Ontario Business, a representative from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry provided further clarification:

"Bonfield Forest Products Incorporated informed the ministry it was no longer pursuing its proposal to construct a sawmill facility. As such, the ministry made a decision not to proceed with the issuance of a forest resource processing facility licence to authorize construction and operation of the sawmill facility."

In 2017, International Wood Industries Inc., operating as Bonfield Forest Products Inc., had proposed construction of a $145-million, state-of-the-art sawmill on a vacant property about 30 minutes southeast of North Bay, promising to bring 90 jobs with it.

The plan, put forward by proponent Gary Medwid, called for a multi-dimensional sawmill operation that would be able to process both hardwood and softwood, producing roughly 90 million board feet of product per year.

Its amenities were to include drying kilns, a planer mill, a moulder mill, and CNC facilities, with a main processing plant building, an administrative building, and ancillary buildings.

A service road for heavy trucks and a railroad spur line were also to be built on the property.

But plans for the sawmill never really seemed to get off the ground.

In early 2018, the company had set in motion the application process for ministry licensing and said it had started the hiring process to fill key management positions.

As recently as 2019, Medwid remained upbeat about the future of the sawmill, expressing optimism that the licence would be forthcoming, setting the stage for construction.

But there seemed to be some key details missing from the plan, including how the operation would be financed, and whether agreements had been put in place to secure fibre to feed the mill.

During its vetting process, the ministry requested additional documentation from Medwid, commenting at the time, “International Wood Industries Inc. and Bonfield Forest Products Inc. have not yet demonstrated the ability to finance construction and operation of the facility. The company intends to continue towards meeting this requirement during the comment period.”

The public was able to provide input on the project via the Environmental Registry between May 28, 2019 and June 27, 2019, and during that time, 24 people took the time to comment, including representatives from EACOM (now Interfor), Rayonier Advanced Materials, and smaller lumber operations.

While some of the feedback lauded the mill’s development, suggesting the job creation and economic development opportunities were welcome for the region, others expressed skepticism about the viability of the project.

A contributor commenting on behalf of Ensyn Technologies Inc., summed up their concerns in a brief comment:

“Historically, many sawmills have operated in the area of the proposed Bonfield Forest Products facility. They have invariably closed because of the lack of a sufficient, economical source of raw material. Nothing has changed in this regard,” they wrote.

“There are existing mills in this fibre basket which have recently invested large amounts of capital to ensure their long-term sustainability. These mills struggle to find sufficient, affordable fibre to operate. To grant a license to an unproven player creates further uncertainty in fibre availability for existing mills.”

Emails to request comment from Medwid in recent years have gone unanswered, and the website associated with International Wood Industries is no longer active.