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Nova Scotia’s Hefler Forest Products re-opening sawmill, hoping to triple workforce

Wood planks.
Wood planks.

Jobs are coming back to Hefler Forest Products’ sawmill starting next month, says Stan Mason, president of the iconic forest products company.

“Given that Hefler has been such an integral part of the community since 1866, it was important for us to explore every option possible for re-opening the sawmill,” said Mason in a statement late Thursday afternoon. “After careful consideration, we have developed a solution that will allow the mill to operate safely and return jobs to the local community.”
That solution is the production of specialty wood products, including 12-foot and 16-foot lengths and deck boards.
Mason, who mused about a foray into the value-added, thermal wood business earlier this year, said no decision has yet been made about a thermal wood kiln.
Thermal wood is a manufactured product made by baking wood in a kiln without oxygen for a longer period of time than it takes to dry lumber. The process results in chemical changes within the wood and makes it more durable and less likely to rot, a high-end product for those making such things as outdoor decks.
“It’s a pretty neat process (but) it’s a very expensive process,” said Mason back in July. “We have our power plant here so we could use the steam for drying the wood in the kiln.”
The new hires next month will amount to 25 sawmill jobs, almost tripling the company's workforce which now includes 15 employees at its biomass plant, to a total of 40 people.
Under its previous owners, Hefler Forest Products’ sawmill employed 35 but those jobs were lost after the company filed for creditor protection in July 2016 and then closed the sawmill.
The new owners, Trevor Hennigar’s Hawthorne Capital and Mason’s Katalyst Wind picked Hefler’s assets in April this year through a numbered company, 3304051 Nova Scotia, but have continued operating under the Hefler brand.
The two men were initially only interested in Hefler’s biomass plant and they’ve kept it operating around the clock.
Although the company on Lucasville Road in Middle Sackville has not divulged the exact revenues generated by that power plant, Hefler’s top exec did say it operates at 60-90 per cent capacity and brings in 17 cents per kilowatt hour. That would mean annual revenues of between about $2.8 million and $4.1 million for Hefler from the power plant alone.
While the sawmill was at a standstill, Hefler had to buy the biomass it needed through Wagner Forest Nova Scotia to keep its power plant in operation.
With the sawmill back in operation, its by-products will be used as additional feedstock or that power plant.
In a statement, Hennigar hinted at further developments on the property, noting the company would be moving “forward with increased activities on-site”.
Earlier this year, Mason went so far as to suggest the low-cost heat furnished by the company’s bio-mass plant could even be used to dry seaweed.

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