Community members are worried about what the future holds for Meadow Creek Cedar.

Community members are worried about what the future holds for Meadow Creek Cedar.

Meadow Creek Cedar hands out mass pink slips

Troubled Lardeau Valley mill lays off workforce, leaving small community searching for answers and looking at ways to salvage major blow to an already fragile local economy

A community group plans to discuss ways of keeping lumber manufacturing local in the wake of layoffs at Meadow Creek Cedar.

Don Edwards, who chairs the Lardeau Valley Opportunity Links Society, says employees received no warning until they arrived at work one day last month.

It’s unclear whether the layoff notices are temporary or permanent, although it’s believed the workforce was down to 20 or less.

The mill briefly restarted part of its operation this spring after a closure of several weeks for safety upgrades.

But Edwards says he’s concerned the mill’s equipment will be sold piece-by-piece and that wood under the company’s tenure will be sent out of the valley.

“This is what we want to stop,” he says. “We’re trying to arrange a meeting with interested parties to change the tenure so as to force the ownership to manufacture locally.”

However, no one is quite sure how to go about it or who to contact.

“I know there are a number of people in the community who want to see something done, but everyone is saying how do we proceed?”

Edwards, who has lived in the valley since 1972 and was highways foreman, recalls when hundreds of loads of logs were placed in the water at Lardeau daily and taken to Nelson to be milled.

“Now they’re talking about doing this again, and I just don’t want to see this carry on because all we’ve got left is potholes and stumps.”

Edwards says he doesn’t care who owns the mill so long as it is kept in production and operated safely.

His society is also working on a community agriculture project and a waste wood study.

“We’re trying to get something done and get the valley a little more stable,” Edwards says.

“When I first moved here, there were 22 logging trucks in Cooper Creek alone. Now there’s one left.”

He says there has also been talk of starting a community forest, similar to the one in Kaslo, which has a vested interest in seeing Meadow Creek Cedar operate.

No date has been set for the community meeting.

Meadow Creek Cedar owner Dale Kooner did not respond to a request for comment.

Safety inspectors remained concerned

It may be a moot point now that employees have been laid off, but a report filed on April 6 shows WorkSafeBC still had concerns about Meadow Creek Cedar’s safety precautions.

The mill shut down to address those issues after receiving an order to guard certain machinery in light of an accident that partly severed a worker’s fingers.

Prevention officer Ted Williams reviewed the company’s plan to guard its packaging station and remanufacturing plant.

“This requires installation of barriers that may impede workers’ ability to leave the mill in the event of a fire or other event requiring evacuation,” he wrote. “The employer must re-evaluate the fire and emergency plan as these barriers are installed.”

There was an ongoing requirement to make sure workers knew about hazards and didn’t bypass barriers put in place to protect them, he added.

“The guarding and compliance plan must be in place as well as information regarding hazards for tasks workers are required to undertake,” Williams said.

“Workers must be effectively trained prior to commencement of production work in the reman plant and at the banding station.”

The company indicated it would comply, but nine days later issued layoff notices.

— Greg Nesteroff