The news that Lakeland Mills will be rebuilt is good for everyone involved, said a group of former employees.
Greg Troster spent three-and-a-half years at the Sinclar Forest Products Group operation before it was destroyed in an April 23, 2012 blast.
"It's good for Prince George, good for the company and good for the workers who want to go back there because there's been a number of high paying jobs that are no longer around - at The Pas [Winton Global Lumber], North Central Plywood and all that," Troster said.
After spending 21 years with the Winton Global planer mill, Troster said he was lucky to have his job replaced next door at Lakeland when it shut down in 2008.
"And then this occurred," he said. "I look at myself as a loyal employee of Lakeland and forever grateful to them in regard to giving me the opportunity to work there after such a long time at the Pas."
Troster's lucky streak continued - he was one of three former Lakeland employees to find new jobs at Pacific Western Brewery at the end of June.
He said he and the others are happy at the brewery and may be leaning towards staying when the rebuilt mill resumes operation by the end of next summer, but will cross that bridge when it comes closer to reality.
"I'll see what the offer is, if I have enough seniority to qualify for a job, etc. It will be a new mill, so there will naturally be less jobs, but at least it will be back in action eventually," he said.
Troster, who found out about the rebuild from the media, said he would happily walk back into a rejuvenated mill with no reservations about safety.
"You can't do anything about the past other than learn from it. I'm sure that it's going to be a different mentality somewhat, the way things are dealt with or monitored," he said, noting he also doesn't believe it was strictly a clean-up problem that caused the mill to explode that fatal night.
Allan Metcalf found out about the plans to reopen at a town hall meeting with his Lakeland co-workers Wednesday morning at Westwood Mennonite Church.
The 54-year-old forklift driver is excited about the prospect of having his old job back.
"It's just awesome, it couldn't have been better news for myself, for everybody at work there, and for Prince George too," said Metcalf. "Myself personally, I just wanted this news to come, whether to rebuild or not rebuild, because it's been a stressful year."
Metcalf, a longterm Canfor employee, has worked on sawmills all his adult life and was in his sixth year working for Lakeland when the mill blew up. He was not on shift on the night the mill was destroyed.
"I was one of the lucky ones because I found myself a job right away and I'm working [with Canfor] but I'm sure I'm going to go back," Metcalf said. "I enjoyed working there, it was a good place to work. I think a lot of people will go back to their jobs. There will be less people required but I know when they do upgrade and downsize they usually end up creating a few more jobs."
Millwright Brian Bouchard, a 15-year Lakeland employee, was working in the planer mill the night of the explosion. He said many of the employees have taken advantage of government programs to go back to school to retrain or upgrade their skills. Now working for Canwell Building Materials, Bouchard is looking forward to his return to Lakeland next year and once again seeing the effect the mill will have in stimulating the city's economy.
"It's excellent, it's a big boost to Prince George," said the 58-year-old Bouchard. "They are good-paying jobs and there will probably be 150 jobs total when you take in the logging -- the spin-off is huge. Even though it's just one mill it seems everybody in town is involved in some way with Lakeland. Everybody knows somebody who has a friend who worked there or knew somebody that worked there and it just seemed to affect everybody. Lakeland was a special group of people, more familyish than most places I've worked, and the tragedy brought everybody closer as a group."