New Democratic Party forests critic Norm Macdonald says he is encouraged by Hampton Affiliates announcement Monday that the company intends to rebuild Babine Forest Products although he hoped something firmer would have been brought forward.
Steve Zika, chief executive officer of the Portland, Oregon-based sawmill operator said the entire rebuilding process is still contingent on negotiating a timber-supply agreement with the provincial government.
"It was a bit of an announcement about an announcement to me," Macdonald said Monday afternoon. "I thought there would be something a bit more definitive than what we actually see here."
He also noted that the fall sitting of the legislature has been cancelled, which will delay passing any legislation that is necessary to move the project forward.
Bob Simpson, the independent MLA for Cariboo North, predicted that the new mill will support a payroll of at best 50 per cent of the previous mill's total because modern mills are more automated and will go only so far to address with Burns Lake's challenges.
Simpson noted Forests Minister Steve Thompson has committed to 150,000 cubic metres a year in community forest tenure in the Burns Lake area up from the typical 10,000 to 20,000 such tenures usually receive.
He applauded the move and suggested other community forests get the same treatment.
"To just do it in that one circumstance, I think is patently unfair to all the other communities out there," Simpson said.
Similarly, Thompson also committed to 380,000 cubic metres of low-grade timber as part of a bio-energy officer to the six first nations in the Burns Lake area and a further 64,000 cubic metres of long term volume for first nations woodland licenses and Simpson asked if other first nations around B.C. will receive similar allotments.
"There is an issue of fairness here," Simpson said. "If they do go down this path, there where is the provincial framework to support this so that other communities get treated as well."
The owners of Lakeland Mills were also encouraged by Monday's announcement.
"We feel strongly that there are a number of factors in our favour for a rebuild," said Greg Stewart, president of Sinclar Group Forest Products.
He said local ownership, a committed and talented workforce, and a number of in-the-field realities make the Lakeland situation different from the Babine situation.
"I'm very, very happy for Hampton, the employees, and a great step forward for the communities around Burns Lake," Stewart said. "I am happy they were able to make that announcement ... We [Lakeland] have a forest supply that has not been as jeopardized by the mountain pine beetle so, again, we are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to make a rebuild announcement, eventually."