Paper Excellence closing Mackenzie pulp mill

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Paper Excellence Canada will be curtailing operations at its pulp mill in Mackenzie.

The curtailment is expected to start in the last week June and will impact the mill's 253 employees, a statement issued by the company on Thursday said. A small team of employees will continue to work on site at the mill to provide security and monitoring.

"There is currently no restart plan for the site," Paper Excellence Canada vice-president Graham Kissack said. "All employees will have work up to and including Aug. 9. That's needed because we have to protect the asset, not only the environment but (the mill infrastructure)."

Following the shut-down work, the mill's hourly employees will be laid off, Kissack said.

The closure of the mill has been driven by a combination of factors – lower global demand for pulp during the COVID-19 pandemic and shrinking supply of fibre.

"It's not a surprise, a lot of operations in B.C. are challenged with fibre supply," Kissack said. "There really is a bunch of factors. It's just gotten to the point we can't economically operate the mill."

The pandemic has reduced demand for lumber, which means less wood chips available for pulp mills, he said. But in the longer-term, fires and the depletion of pine beetle-killed wood has reduced the supply of wood fibre in the region.

Two of the company's paper operations in the province are facing similar challenges, he said.

The Richmond-based company will continue to operate its pulp mills in Port Mellon and Skookumchuk, B.C., as well as facilities in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia. Some employees from Mackenzie may be able to relocate to those operations, the company statement said.

Kissack said it's too early to tell how many employees will be able and willing to relocate.

Community hard-hit

District of Mackenzie Mayor Joan Atkinson said the closure will mean all three major employers in the town of roughly 3,700 people are closed. Conifex Timber has curtailed its sawmill in Mackenzie since mid-April, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Canfor's sawmill in the town has been on an "indefinite curtailment" since July 2019.

"The pulp mill has kind of been the community's saving grace for the last few months, because our two sawmills have been down," Atkinson said. "Already we have 400 mill workers out of work. It's certainly very, very disappointing news."

The news is especially hard to take when community members continue to see logging trucks full of logs driving out of town, she said.

"Our community fully recognizes that not every log that is harvested in our area will be used at our mills. (But) we want to make sure our mills are fibered-up before we're shipping logs out of town to other mills" Atkinson said. "It's not good news, but we are going to keep on fighting.”

Prince George Citizen