Crofton mill to be idled for 30 days, Port Alberni for two weeks

Island mills to be idled

Forestry giant Paper Excellence is shutting down its Crofton pulp and paper mill for at least 30 days and its Port Alberni mill for a minimum of two weeks, says a union representative.

The closures come just five months after senior governments contributed $18.8 million to support the Crofton mill and its jobs.

About 100 Unifor members in Crofton and about 174 in Port Alberni are affected, Gavin McGarrigle, western regional director for Unifor, said Monday.

“We understand the overall global market conditions — there’s too much paper out there. They just can’t really find a market to sell it into, so that’s why they have to do their curtailment.”

“When they do these curtailments, they basically shut most of it down, other than the bare minimum.”

Global demand for paper has declined sharply, driving up inventory levels and depressing prices, he said.

In January, Paper Excellence announced it was investing nearly $50 million in the Crofton mill’s paper operations.

The federal government contributed $14.3 million and the province put in $4.5 million toward fostering innovation and sustainability.

The company recalled about 100 workers dedicated to the paper side of the mill, which had been cut back due to weakened Chinese paper markets and higher costs.

Innovation included transforming a paper machine to produce stronger water-resistant paper aimed at reducing the need for single-use plastics. That new process will reduce natural gas consumption by using waste bark in the mill’s boiler.

Asked for its response to the closures, B.C.’s Ministry of Forests said in a statement that the province is committed to supporting a strong forest sector that prioritizes innovation and value-added work.

“A more diverse and innovative industry will be more resilient to the volatile swings we’ve seen in the market recently,” the ministry said.

“We know how tough closures are for workers and communities impacted by mill curtailments amid weakening markets for forestry products, including low prices for pulp and paper products.”

Cyclical curtailments are not new to the forest sector, and some are due to lack of fibre, said McGarrigle.

Union representatives met recently with Forests Minister Bruce Ralston to share their concerns about the health of the forest sector.

The union is watching closely as mills transition to more value-added products and how that affects jobs and communities, McGarrigle said.

The federal standing committee on natural resources is scheduled today to begin the first of two days of meetings to discuss the Paper Excellence’s ownership structure and business relations.

The second meeting is set for June 2.

The committee will report its finding to Parliament.

Paper Excellence did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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