By Michael Potestio / Kamloops This Week
The Heffley Creek plywood and veneer operation in Kamloops will close from Aug. 24 to Sept. 2 as financial pressure continues to plague the forestry industry in B.C.
The high cost of logs and weak markets are impacting our operating footprint in British Columbia,” said Tolko vice-president of solid wood Troy Connolly.
“Although we prefer to keep these locations in constant operation, we must manage the business responsibly and ensure we are sustainable for the future.”
In addition to Heffley Creek, employees at Tolko mills in Armstrong and Lumby are getting an unscheduled summer break.
The Armstrong lumber, Armstrong plywood and White Valley veneer operations near Lumby will take downtime from Aug. 17 to Sept. 2.
Tolko Armstrong experienced four weeks of downtime in May and June.
Connolly said employees were informed of the decision on Thursday and their managers are available to help them with any questions they may have.
“This downtime will affect over 700 of our employees in these operations. We do not make these decisions without a lot of consideration,” Connolly said.
“We have great people working at these locations, and this is in no way a reflection on them or their commitment. However, we continue to experience challenging industry conditions in British Columbia.”
United Steelworkers Local 1-417 president Marty Gibbons said the poor log market is driving the three shutdowns.
He said the government could adjust stumpage rates, but the legal ramifications would be dire if it did.
“The stumpage system, if the government touches it, it will adversely effect the softwood legal battle going on with the [United] States, so really we’re caught between a rock and a hard place,” Gibbons said.
He said not adjusting the rates is “causing absolute pain” in forestry communities.
“I wish I had an idea for a solution, but right now it seems like we’re going to continue to suffer from downtime,” Gibbons said.
The lack of timber supply in B.C. adds to the problem, he said, as companies bid against each other for timber, driving up costs.
Gibbons pointed to stakeholder meetings held by the Ministry of Forests in Merritt and Kamloops earlier this week.
He said they included promising talks regarding what the future of the timber supply will look like.
“And that’s a really important discussion to take place,” Gibbons said.
He said the USW’s input was that there needs to be some sort of community benefit program for towns that depend on forestry.
“There’s a lot of discussion out there right now about community forests,” Gibbons said.
“These community forest agreements basically provide some of the tenure that is going to the big companies, to the communities, and the communities are able to utilize that.”
Gibbons said he is waiting to see if the curtailment of the West Fraser mill and shutdown of Canfor’s Vavenby mill will level out the timber supply and ease prices.
USW Local 1-417 represents forestry workers in areas including Kamloops, Clearwater, Salmon Arm, Merritt and Clinton.
Pino Pucci, Tolko’s vice-president of marketing and sales, said Tolko’s marketing and sales team “will continue to support our customers and do our best to minimize any impacts.
“Our customers are understanding of current market conditions and aware of our ongoing commitment to serve them,” he said.
More than a month of downtime for Kelowna’s Tolko division was announced at the end of July. The plant will be down from Aug. 6 to Sept. 15.
There have been myriad announcements in recent months linked to sawmill closures or curtailments throughout the province.
One such closure took place in Vavenby, near Clearwater, where the Canfor mill closed at the end of July, leaving more than 170 people out of work.