TC • Media
POINT TUPPER — If the sale of the former NewPage mill is finalized Friday, all workers will be back on the job by Sunday, with the first roll of paper rolling off the production line within two days.
Marc Dube confirmed Pacific West Commercial Corp.’s plans to resume production at the mill to the Cape Breton Post on Tuesday.
Workers have been recalled over the past two weeks, with about 150 currently on site preparing the mill for restart. On Sunday, the full complement of 330, including 229 unionized employees, would be on the job.
“We’re hoping for Monday night, but I’d say Tuesday for certain,” Dube said when asked when the first roll of paper is expected to be produced.
“We also have contractors on site, we have some retirees, we have consultants working with us from manufacturers and private suppliers to help us have a good and quick restart.”
There remains one hurdle in the way of the sale’s completion. The provincial energy regulator is to decide Friday whether it will issue an expedited ruling on Pacific West’s revised power rate filing or whether it will send the matter to a full hearing. If it goes to a hearing, the company has asked that the load-retention rate be approved on an interim basis.
In evidence filed with the Utility and Review Board on Tuesday, Pacific West indicated it “would consider closing the transaction” and resuming mill operations if it receives an interim approval.
The sale has to go through on Friday, Dube said. When asked whether it would go ahead if the board orders a hearing and doesn’t set the rate on an interim basis, he said that’s not his decision to make.
“I’m not certain if it would or wouldn’t. It would certainly be better for us but we have to respect the UARB process and we’re confident that they’ll do what they feel is best for the ratepayers of Nova Scotia,” Dube said.
NewPage will be in court in Halifax on Thursday seeking to have its creditor protection extended to Oct. 5 so that all details associated with the sale can be completed.
The Strait region had a roller-coaster weekend with word Friday night that Pacific West was abandoning its $33-million purchase of the mill. Subsequent round-the-clock negotiations resulted in a revised assistance package from the province that persuaded the company to resume the effort the following evening.
The mill will begin receiving deliveries of fibre today and production at its thermomechanical pulp plant is to begin this evening, to create feedstock to restart the mill’s secondary treatment system.
“We’ve been feeding the bugs (used in the system) some molasses to get them active again and we’ll have some of that stock kneaded into the secondary treatment through the balance of this week until startup,” Dube said.
The mill, which will be called Port Hawkesbury Paper, has received enough orders to start papermaking, and a lot of interest has been shown in the mill’s supercalendered paper, which supplies the magazine and catalogue market.
“The customers are certainly being proactive and want us back in the marketplace, so that end of the business is going very well at this time,” Dube said.
The focus for the first six months of operation is on production of SCA++ paper, the highest-grade and highest-value the machine can produce so it can compete in the coated-paper marketplace, and building the order book. Pacific West is studying some potential additional items that it could add to its product line down the road to diversify the mill so it can better withstand ups and downs in the markets. To that end, they’ve been working with FPInnovations, a pulp and paper research and technology institute, and industry consulting firms on what other products using assets at the mill not currently being used.
“You always have to look at new opportunities,” Dube said. “We’re confident that in our paper grades that this is a long-term opportunity, but in saying that we also have to enhance it and by creating more products and creating more markets for ourselves it will just protect the business in the future.”
Concerns arose this week that the $124.5-million package provided by the province could lead to American paper products filing a complaint under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Dube said the terms of the package do not differ greatly from similar government assistance that some U.S. mills have accessed in recent years.