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Province may free up wood if Fort Frances mill sold

Queen’s Park in holding pattern until new operator named
Fort Frances mill 2
Resolute Forest Products closed its Fort Frances pulp and paper mill in 2013.

The provincial government won’t guarantee wood supply to Fort Frances unless a new owner is in place at the former pulp and paper mill.

Natural Resources and Forestry Minister John Yakabuski said in the Ontario Legislature, March 26,that the availability of Crown fibre allocation will be considered for a potential operator should a property sale with Resolute Forest Products go through.

“The reality is that we must wait until such time as there is a purchase for the mill in Fort Frances before we can discuss the issue of wood supply for any mill.”

Yakabuski’s response was prompted by a question from Algoma-Manitoba MPP Mike Mantha concerning Crown fibre being shipped from an area forest near Fort Frances to Resolute’s other operations in northwestern Ontario.

A provincial Sustainable Forest Licence (SFL) agreement states that wood from the Crossroute Forest is allocated to Fort Frances and the shuttered mill there.

Resolute still owns the mill that it closed in 2013. It has been entertaining offers for the property over the years.

The Town of Fort Frances contends the Crossroute is an underutilized forest and is negotiating for regional control of the management unit.

They accuse Resolute of holding a monopoly on the Crossroute that's stymying any new forestry players from setting up shop on the mill property.

Mantha wanted assurance from the minister that forestry jobs will be available should a potential new mill operator want to use wood from the Crossroute.

“The Crossroute Forest, under the SFL, has commitments,” Yakabuski answered.

“Should a sale be finalized, we will reopen those discussions.”

Yakabuski gave credit to Energy and Northern Development and Mines Minister Greg Rickford, the MPP for Kenora-Rainy River, for trying to “broker a solution” on the wood fibre issue.

Rickford has publicly stated the province would like to see the mill be reopened with a new operator.

Rainy River Packaging (formerly known as Repap), a consortium of North American investors, is the Town of Fort Frances’ choice to take over the mill.

The startup company's proposal involves making packaging paper that would require the use of fibre from the Crossroute. Resolute holds the SFL agreement.

Rainy River has made an offer to Resolute, but the Montreal newsprint and specialty papermaker insists it won’t entertain any offers unless bidders signed non-disclosure agreements, which, they contend, Rainy River Packaging has not complied with.

As a backstop, Resolute has an undisclosed site redeveloper poised to demolish the mill buildings and repurpose the brownfield site for possible non-industrial community uses.

“The issue in the Crossroute Forest, as you know – there is a wood allocation that has been made and the wood is being used in other mills,” said Yakabuski.

“Should a deal be brokered together by someone who is prepared to operate the Fort Frances mill location, we would relook at that allocation.”

Yakabuski is in the midst of a series of roundtables across Ontario to speak with forest industry stakeholders as part of a provincial review of the sector.