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Ripple effect: Forestry industry anxiously watching Northern Pulp developments, fear potential impacts on sector

Andrew Watters and Jody Hamper are both employees at Group Savoie in Westville. The hardwood saw mill is heavily dependent on its relationship with Northern Pulp for its business success.
Andrew Watters and Jody Hamper are both employees at Group Savoie in Westville. The hardwood saw mill is heavily dependent on its relationship with Northern Pulp for its business success. - Adam MacInnis

FOXBROOK, PICTOU COUNTY, N.S.

Andrew Watters can’t help but worry about the future.

He manages the Group Savoie sawmill in Foxbrook, Pictou County and says there are only a few weeks’ worth of logs left to process before the company will have to start looking at laying off employees. It usually happens at some point each year - but it's not usually this early.

A bigger worry forestry workers is the future of Northern Pulp.

In an industry that is interconnected, Watters hopes - for the sake the sawmill he works at and others in the province - that Northern Pulp will be able to build a new effluent treatment facility and continue operation in Pictou County without interruption.

More than 35 per cent of the saw logs that come into Group Savoie are from Northern Pulp, which, in the process of harvesting forests, sorts the wood and sends it to the place where the wood will get the highest value. It’s good for Northern Pulp because it gives the company greater value for the wood and good for Group Savoie because it provides quality logs that are often in short supply.

The byproducts from the sawmilling process at Group Savoie - like bark and sawdust - are sent to Northern Pulp to be used in the pulp process. For sawmills, it’s an extra line of income that can mean the difference between financial success or failure.

RELATED: 'Challenges ahead': Northern Pulp committed to staying in Pictou County despite timeline crunch

Potential devastation

If the pulp mill were to close, Watters said, it would be devastating for sawmills in the region.

“It may all work out in time, but most people won’t have time to make it work out,” he said.

He gets frustrated when he hears a constant call from some people for the mill to be shut down.

“They’ve got to look at what’s going to happen in the community if there’s no pulp mill,” he said.

Jeff Bishop, executive director for Forest Nova Scotia, said the impact of the mill is significant.

“Missing a pulp mill as a partner would be significant for a number of sawmills.”

He believes if Northern Pulp were to ever close, the impact would be immediate.

“You’d see a number of sawmills probably that same day stop working,” he said. “Within a week, you’d have a number more that would do the same. It’s not economical for them to operate and not have that relationship that’s there.”

The effects would ripple out from there to woodlot owners.

“If we lose a bigger player like Northern Pulp, it just makes the market that much smaller. Demand for wood would go down. What does that do to the value of standing timber?”

There are also contractors, suppliers and truckers that would be impacted.

“Some folks say it’s only X number of people at Northern Pulp. It’s not, if you really understand the economics of it.”

Like Watters, he finds the anti-mill rhetoric concerning.

“We saw what happened when (the Bowater Mersey Paper Mill) left. There was a significant impact at the time.”

The economic impacts can still be felt in Liverpool since the 2012 closure.

Bishop doesn’t question the need to close the Boat Harbour Treatment Facility, but as someone watching from the outside, he worries now about whether Northern Pulp has the time to make things happen.

“You hope the window is there to get it done.”

By the numbers: Northern Pulp’s economic influence

339 – number of people directly employed by the mill

$100 million – amount of labour income Northern Pulp creates.

$315 million – amount Northern Pulp invests and spends annually

280,000 tonnes – amount of kraft pulp produced at Northern Pulp

1:12 – ratio of jobs in Pictou County tied to the mill

$10 million – tax revenue generated at the mill

NOTE: Stats based on a study done by Gardner Pinfold Consultants in 2015

RELATED LINKS

• Here's how Northern Pulp says its effluent treatment plan would work

• Environmental experts offer insight on proposed design

• Fishermen and Northern Pulp at an impasse

• ‘Everyone’s not going to be as nice as me’: Survey boat mapping Northern Pulp effluent pipe forced back to shore

• Fishermen, First Nation still oppose Northern Pulp pipe plan

• Northern Pulp pipeline could harm herring spawning beds, say PEI fishermen

• Northern Pulp scrambles to clean up effluent spill

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