Representatives of the Cumberland County forest industry will gather in Amherst again Sunday to try to continue the momentum from their initial meeting a week ago.
“We’re going to continue to follow up on what we did last Sunday,” Athol Forestry Co-operative general manager Ian Ripley said Friday. “We’re going to follow up on the ideas that were raised and work toward developing an action plan and start looking at establishing working groups.”
Last weekend more than 80 forest and community representatives gathered at the Community Credit Union Business Innovation Centre in Amherst to discuss the province’s decision not to extend the Boat Harbour Act of 2015 that will lead to the closure of the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County.
Much of Cumberland County’s wood supply goes to that mill and its closure is expected to have a devastating impact on forests in Cumberland County – that produces 20 per cent of Nova Scotia’s wood supply annually, with approximately 800,000 hectares of forest worth more than $400 million.
Last week, was the first step on the road to recovery and Ripley said Sunday’s meeting, from 3 to 6 p.m. at the business innovation centre, will be a continuation of that work.
Also, he stressed, it’s not too late for more people to join in. Knowing the weather wasn’t ideal last Sunday, Ripley said, it’s possible some people who wanted to come to the meeting weren’t able to.
“The poster we sent out to all the attendees from the last meeting asked them to please come back and to share with others who didn’t come the first time,” he said. “We want to get a variety of thoughts in this process.”
Since last week’s meeting, Ripley has heard many good comments from those who participated. Those working in the forest industry are very concerned with their futures, he said, but they’re not giving up or going down without a fight.
One of the things likely to come out of the process is the development of a Cumberland County transition team to work with the provincial team, government and the industry on alternatives. The most important thing that needs to come out of the process, he said, is the development of a Plan B. While many in the industry knew this was coming, including himself, Ripley said no one thought of developing alternatives and it’s something everyone is playing catch-up to complete.
With the closure of the mill set for Jan. 31, he said timing is of the essence.
No matter what happens Sunday, Ripley said he does see a glimmer of hope with Northern Pulp’s announcement Thursday that it’s committed to the province and wants to operate here for the long term.
“There’s some encouragement with that, but there’s also the cold, hard facts that we need to look for an alternative and we need to do that ASAP,” Ripley said. “I want to be optimistic for the future of the mill and I wish them well, but my regret is I hadn’t done before this to come up with a good Plan B. That’s what we’re working toward, to get us in a better spot.”
Ripley also pointed out something not thought of in the deliberations over the future of Northern Pulp: how it’s closure could impact Nova Scotia’s climate change goals. He said he's read research on how a healthier forest stores more carbon.
Both of Cumberland County’s MLAs said they will be taking part in the meeting.
“Cumberland County needs to see immediate action in order to save the forestry sector and the many jobs that depend on it,” Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin said in a news release. “The first meeting started an important dialog, and I look forward to continuing this discussion about how we move forward.”
The first meeting, facilitated by Frank Gallant of Peak Experience, discussed changes within the industry and strategies for immediately, the short-term and the long-term to protect jobs.
“Our top focus must be the retention of jobs,” Cumberland South MLA and PC forestry critic Tory Rushton said in the release. “With so many jobs at stake it is important that we have these meetings to discuss the future of the industry and how we can protect jobs in the region.”