UPPER NAPPAN, N.S. – Cumberland County’s thirty million dollar forestry industry his careening down the tracks and will crash and burn, never to recover, if the pulp mill in Pictou County is closed this coming January.
That was the bleak picture painted by foresters gathered at the County Council Chambers on May 1.
“We’re watching a train wreck about to happen, and that train wreck is going to happen at midnight some day in January next winter,” said Ian Ripley, woodlot owner, and general manager of Athol Forestry Co-op, which represent 250 small woodlot owners in Cumberland County holding titles to about 50,000 acres of forest land.
The foresters were at the council chamber to request the county send a letter to the provincial government asking them to extend the January 2020 deadline given to Northern Pulp to close the Boatwater Effluent Treatment Facility.
Mac Davis, a registered professional forester and resident of Cumberland County, gave a history lesson on the Boatwater facility to council.
“Until 1995 the province owned and operated the treatment facility and the mill took over operation under a lease agreement until 2030,” said Davis.
The effluent treatment facility is still owned by the province today.
“The Boat Harbour Act of May 2015 legislates the effluent treatment facility closure by January of 2020, reducing the lease agreement by 10 years,” added Davis.
Ripley said if an extension to the deadline is not granted and the pulp mill is shut down, the impact upon Cumberland County’s economy will be devastating.
“There are 500 jobs in Cumberland County connected, directly or indirectly, to the forest industry; contractors, truckers, part suppliers, and the list goes on and on.”
Ripley said the Cumberland County forestry industry receives annual receipts in the amount of $25 to $35 million for the sale of wood.
“That money comes back into our county as stumpage and is paid to the landowners, the contractors, the truck drivers, and all the other people involved in the harvest and the processing of that wood,” said Ripley.
He also said that between $1 and $1.5 million is spent on forestry management every year in Cumberland County.
“There will be no need to do that if there is no mill in our backyard.”
Ripley said In 2017 Cumberland County produced about 16 per cent of the wood for all of Nova Scotia, or about 520,000 cubic metres of wood.
“That’s about 45 tractor trailer loads of wood leaving Cumberland County seven days a week, 365 days a year.”
He also said 51 per cent of the trees harvested in Cumberland County go to the pulp mill and 49 per cent are used to produce ‘saw-able’ products such as 2X4’s.
“If you have 51 per cent of your customer base disappear one day, in any business, it would be devastating.”
During the meeting it was pointed out that Cumberland County is just over 1 million acres in size, with 800,000 acres of that land covered in forest, 10 per cent of which is protected.
“That 800,000 acres of forest cover in Cumberland County is an asset worth $400 and $600 million,” said Ripley. “If timber prices were to collapse because we lost the forest industry, that asset, including my woodlot, would be worth a whole lot less than it is today.”
Ripley says the looming uncertainty about the future of the pulp mill is already impacting the industry.
“We’ve started to see a hesitation or an avoidance to investment, not only in the forest industry, but in connected industries as well,” said Ripley. “We see people are choosing not to buy equipment because they don’t know what the future holds, and we’re seeing young folks not taking up careers in forestry.”
The impact will only get worse as the deadline approaches he added.
“We suspect that, come this fall, that business is going to start applying brakes to what they feel is going to be the closure of the pulp mill in January.”
Ripley said the loss of forestry jobs will also lead to the out-migration of people from Cumberland County.
“If we were to lose our forest industry, those people (forestry workers) are going to experience tremendous employment barriers looking for work in other places,” said Ripley. “Most forestry jobs are well-paid, and those people are typically the principal earners in their households. I’m fearful that if they have to look elsewhere for work we’re going to see an out-migration of the workers and the household as well.”
Davis finished the presentation by asking council to send a letter to the provincial government asking for an extension to the January 2020 deadline.
“We request you send a letter to the premier requesting the provincial government grant an extension to the company to allow them the time they need to complete this massive project,” said Davis. “This is a very serious issue. We need to give them the time to get their ducks in a row.”
The request to send a letter to the province will be on the agenda for the next council meeting on May 15.