Some current and former Lardeau Valley residents don’t think the transfer of Meadow Creek Cedar’s forest license to a South Slocan company will do much to re-energize the area’s economy.
In Facebook posts and interviews this week, several people expressed disappointment that restarting the Cooper Creek sawmill is not part of the arrangement.
“Reading this definitely doesn’t give people of the Lardeau Valley a good feeling,” Harley Thiessen wrote on nelsonstar.com in response to a story about the Kanigan brothers taking over management of the license and the potential for establishing a sort yard.
“It is actually ever so familiar as the last seven to eight years where all the work is taken out of the valley. The end goal needs to be getting the mill back on stream because a sort yard isn’t going to do it.”
Thiessen said the suggestion no one has been able to find the right log for the mill “sounds like an excuse … “However, I think/hope that this is the step in the right direction. There are a lot of liabilities with taking over Meadow Creek Cedar and I hope the Kanigans have enough capital and value for the community to turn this disaster around.”
Deseri Adrian, who left the area several years ago when troubles at the mill began, asked: “Will a sort yard actually help the valley or can they get it up and running properly so that we get all the people out there back in jobs so they don’t have to leave their families to work for weeks on end?”
“We need to build the economy back up right here,” Debra Brisske said. “It’s very vague how this will do that. That mill somehow has to start running again to bring people back here.”
Christina Alexander Tremblay, a 33-year resident who lives near the mill, said she has never seen so many people moving or leaving home to work in other provinces: “It would be better to see the mill in full operation again and get people back in our now diminishing community.
“I have a hard time picturing the plant running like it used to due to current industry happenings,” former Meadow Creek employee Garth Hardy wrote. “It’s unfortunate, but I think it’s more of a reality.”
But regional district director Andy Shadrack thinks things have “finally turned a corner” in getting the forest license transferred. “This in and of itself will again start creating local employment,” he said in an email. “The new owners are not opposed to selling part of the logged timber for local manufacturing. So I will wait to see what happens and who emerges with what proposals.”
Shadrack’s predecessor as regional director, Larry Greenlaw, was more pessimistic, saying in a phone interview that “sort yards just don’t work … I’d say we’d be lucky if it was 25 per cent of the full operation. Their proposal doesn’t carry much weight.”
Now retired, Greenlaw held a variety of positions with Kootenay Forest Products when it operated in the Lardeau. He said the forest industry remains important to the area, and a population drop in recent years is directly attributable to its decline. “It’s pretty depressing now. All of our young people are having to move. Now it’s just the pot growers left, who don’t pay taxes.”
Greenlaw said an Ontario company has shown interest in the mill and license, but found the cost of catching up on reforestation requirements prohibitive and couldn’t reach a deal.
Kaslo mayor Greg Lay said in an email that he supports “any attempt to create employment in the depressed area of Kaslo and Area D of the RDCK.”
Lay explained that while the village hasn’t had any formal delegations from the Kanigan brothers, they approached the Kaslo and District Community Forest Society last year with a proposal to create more local employment.
Lay, a registered professional forester, and society chair John Addison visited the South Slocan operation and thought the proposal worth pursuing, but the majority of the board felt otherwise.
Around the same time, Lay was asked to join the North Kootenay Lake Forestry Initiative because of his past experience as an operations manager with Kootenay Forest Products. Although village council was aware of his involvement, Lay says he didn’t act on their behalf.
The group also includes another forester, woodlot owner/operators, technicians, and retired forest workers and road builders who are trying to promote re-establishment of the Cooper Creek mill and other uses of the area’s wood supply.
The group is sponsored by the Lardeau Valley Opportunity Links Society and is working on a package to present to potential investors, while trying to find uses and markets for hemlock and compressed fuel products.