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Dubreuilville sawmill eyeballs summer startup

After five years in mothballs, market conditions appear right for Dubreuil Forest Products to fire up operations again.
After being shut down for five years, Dubreuil Forest Products is making plans to restart operations by summer's end, buoyed by a better financing environment and an optimistic U.S. commercial wood market.

After five years in mothballs, market conditions appear right for Dubreuil Forest Products to fire up operations again.

General manager Dave Jennings was projecting a late summer startup for the northeastern Ontario sawmill, just north of Wawa, once a mill licence was issued by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR).

What's being proposed is a two-shift, random length operation that will employ about 140.

“We're confident the market is headed in the right direction to allow us to operate again,” said Jennings.

About two-thirds of the original operation will be put into use, or what's considered the more modern and less labour-intensive side.

With capacity for 145,000 board-feet, the product lines will range from one-by-threes to two-by-12s with lengths from eight to 16 feet.

There will be some value-added stuff as well. Prior to shutdown, Dubreuil produced machine stress rated lumber, an engineered wood product used in truss construction or I-joists.

“Our main focus will be on building material,” said Jennings, particularly geared to the U.S. home renovations and commmercial wood markets.

Once the licence is finalized, the company needs to firm up wood supply and financing arrangements.

Jennings senses the traditional banks' appetite toward funding the forestry sector is starting to come around due thanks to a more positive outlook from an industry that endured a decade-long slump.

Despite the mill being down for so long, Jennings said no major capital upgrades are necessary. “It's just a matter of getting things rolling again.”

Filling up the order book will be up to the sales force at the Buchanan Group in Thunder Bay. The parent company recently fired up its mill near Sioux Lookout at Hudson.

In this neck of the woods, the company will be dealing with a provincially-created agency to secure a portion of its wood supply.

The Nawiinginokiima Forest Management Corporation was activated this past spring to oversee and market the sale of Crown timber in the forests around Marathon, Manitouwadge and Pic Mobert First Nation on the northeast shore of Lake Superior.

Dubreuil Forest Products will be looking to secure 750,000 cubic metres of round wood.

Historically, Dubreuil has relied on only 20 per cent of its fibre secured directly from the MNR. The balance has come from third-party and business-to-business arrangements.

With so many mills gone, Jennings doesn't expect sourcing wood to be a problem.

“There's no reason there shouldn't be wood supply available for the facilities that are still around.”

Jennings is not overly concerned that labour will be an issue despite the nearby presence of two active and expanding gold miners (Richmont and Wesdome) and the possibility of a couple more coming into existence soon.

Some locals commuted to distance industry jobs, but gradually folks have drifted back to town. Dubreuilville was originally a company town established in the early 1960s by the Dubreuil brothers who constructed a sawmill just off the Trans-Canada Highway north of Wawa.

“We're dealing with second and third generation families here, this is where home is,” said Jennings.

Forestry skills are often transferrable to mining, but “mining isn't for everyone.”