The splinters are flying in a forestry fight between local MLA Bob Simpson and the owners of Burns Lake's Babine Forest Products (BFP).
Hampton Affiliates' CEO Steve Zika issued a retort on Monday to a series of statements by Simpson berating the provincial government for the way it has helped the destroyed mill get back on its feet.
While everyone is entitled to their opinion and we do not often get involved in political propaganda, I felt I had to respond to the continual attacks on BFP and the community of Burns Lake through the recent misinformation generated by [Simpson]," said Zika from the Hampton Affiliates headquarters in Portland, Oregon.
Simpson, the independent MLA for Cariboo North, said in written statements over the past months that he believed BFP should not be rebuilt, based on his own assessment of the available timber in the Lakes Timber Supply Area (TSA) where the destroyed mill is located.
Babine and its smaller sister mill Decker Lake Forest Products are the only resident sawmills in the Lakes TSA, although they share the trees from the Lakes forests with three other mills in adjacent towns.
A close assessment of the wood available in the Lakes District forest, and other factors, resulted in Hampton Affiliates announcing earlier this winter that they would take the financial risk (insurance covered only part of the replacement costs after a fatal explosion and fire in January 2012) and rebuild the mill. Reconstruction work is already underway.
When the provincial government announced plans to revamp some forest policies, following recommendations made by the joint-party committee that reviewed the provinces timber supply issues, Simpson said they essentially redrew the rules to allow BFP to succeed (plus favour other private interests in the B.C. forest industry).
In his most recent statements on the matter, made in a pair of postings March 1 on his MLA website, Simpson outlined his case.
It puzzles me why the Liberals have decided that Hampton should be the winner in the fight for timber, said Simpson in one posting. They are a U.S.-based firm and were a member of the Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports. They received money from the $1 billion that was stolen from Canadian companies in the 2006 softwood lumber settlement, and they could still face charges under the Workers Compensation Act for their role in the events leading up to the explosion at the Burns Lake sawmill.
Zika said the company quit the Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports seven years ago. Hampton is a wood business that operates on both sides of the Canada/U.S. border and most major forest companies now do business this way in the modern financial climate.
"All of our employees, contractors and the community of Burns Lake were facing a dismal economic future if the BFP sawmill was not rebuilt," Zika said, and added that the consequences of economic illness are already affecting the people of Burns Lake because of the mill's absence.
"Realistically, there was no magic bullet, new industry, or easy solution that government could have employed to help Burns Lake," Zika said. "Instead, similar to trying to promote economic development in any rural community, government leaders recommended a proactive approach using existing infrastructure and available resources to find a solution. The alternative of doing nothing would result in a community that would have suffered even more and required significant government assistance for many years to come.
"The local community, including First Nations, rallied around rebuilding a sawmill and trying to find enough fiber to ensure a new facility could be financed and sustainable," Zika said.
Simpson claims that the other forest companies taking wood from the Lakes TSA will have their tenure lost or shifted out of that area. Zika counters that no mill is losing wood at all.
By turning forest policy on its head to favour Hampton, the government is putting other jobs and Highway 16 communities at risk," Simpson said.
Zika said there were commitments made by government that affected the decision to go ahead with the rebuild, but they were not subsidies to the company. The three conditions the government met were for Lakes District First Nations (there are six) and the municipality of Burns Lake to receive a new community forest program; that the same First Nations be offered low-volume cutting permits known as a Non-Replaceable Forestry License; and that the government carry through with its intention to create an area-based timber system to dovetail into the preexisting volume-based timber system.
I would hardly refer to the above commitments as 'turning forest policy on its head to favour Hampton'," Zika said. "BFP is not looking for a handout, but a hand up would be a great example of co-operation between government, First Nations, a family-owned company, and the local community as a vision for future success in British Columbia.