After the closure of the Canfor mill last year, the District of Clearwater received $200,000 as a community legacy fund from the company. The company, however, “has committed” just $25,000 to the Thompson-Nicola Regional District and the residents of Vavenby feel it’s not enough.
The TNRD is requesting Vavenby recieve a $200,000 community legacy similar to what the DOC was given earlier this year.
TNRD adopts resolution to
In documents obtained by the Times, the TNRD passed a resolution at their June 13, 2019, regular meeting to initiate discussions with Canfor to request a legacy payment to the residents of Vavenby. A letter was sent to Canfor Corporation “to recognize the impact of its operations in the community” and “acknowledge (Canfor’s) appreciation for the years of support the community has committed to the sawmill operations.”
One month later, the TNRD received a response signed by Canfor senior vice president of Canadian operations, Stephen Mackie. The TNRD’s request for a legacy fund was taken under consideration as the “immediate focus” was to support employees and contractors as the mill operations wind down.
In the letter, Mackie states the company has “been a proud employer in Vavenby” and that they have generated local economic activity because of the mill’s operation. This was done, the letter stated, through $1.12 million in municipal taxes, $475 million through wages, contracting services and supply purchases, and $82 million in stumpage payments to the Government of B.C.
Requests for increased legacy
After the tenure transfer was awarded to Canfor in February, the documents show the conversation continued between Carol Schaffer, TNRD director for electoral area ‘A’ and Vavenby resident, the TNRD and Canfor’s executive team.
Schaffer explained in an email addressed to Canfor’s Stephen Mackie and Michelle Ward, that congratulations were in order for the approved tenure transfer but was “very disappointed that Canfor felt the TNRD (Vavenby) is only worth $25,000.”
The Vavenby sawmill has been a part of the community skyline since 1952. Canfor took over the mill in the early 2000’s and had been operating in the Vavenby community for 15 years before the mill was closed in summer, 2019.
When the DOC incorporated in 2007, the industrial land the mill sat on became part of the district’s boundaries.
Despite this, Schaffer said it’s the residents of Vavenby who have continued to endure the effects of the mill.
“It was the devoted Vavenby residents who made up the volunteer fire department that responded to all fire calls at your mill,” wrote Schaffer. “It was hard-working, dedicated Vavenby residents who volunteered and donated monies out (of) their own pockets and paid the majority of the costs to maintain the water system that the mill uses.
“Vavenby residents have had to tolerate years of dust, fly ash emission, noise pollution, heavy vehicles, continuous road wear and maintenance, just to name a few. Maybe not statistically measured here, but we know through years of research and proven data of other high polluntant areas, these impacts may relate to individuals’ severe health condition(s).”
Number just drop in
The $200,000 legacy fund amount requested by the TNRD would be allocated between two projects — Vavenby’s water system and the volunteer fire department.
According to the documents, Interior Health has stated that the community of Vavenby will be required to install a filtration system in the near future. The work is expected to cost around $1 million to complete.
The other half would be allocated to replace the deteriorating firehall.
“For 16 years your mill has capitalized on and generous(ly) used the fire services for the mill and the water system. These are two utilities that Canfor relied on for the safety of their sawmill and for drinking water, bathrooms, office use for their staff and at times for the operation of the mill,” wrote Schaffer.
“Let’s not forget the people who have supported you the most.”
In response, a letter from Canfor details the amounts to be provided to the region: $200,000 to the DOC as a community legacy fund; $150,000 to the United Way, paid over five years; and $25,000 to the TNRD “to be used at your discretion for priority infrastructure initiatives.”
On May 4, the TNRD sent another formal inquiry to Canfor to reconsider the legacy grant of $25,000 and increase it to the previously requested amount of $200,000.
“Canfor sold their tenure for $60 million,” wrote Schaffer in a separate email. “This works out to a miniscule 0.33 per cent — not even one per cent.”
No more funds
In response, a letter signed by Canfor’s president and CEO Don Kayne stated deep regret for the impact of the Vavenby mill closure on the community, contractors and employees, and added they were “proud to operate in the region and took pride in giving back to the community every year.”
The letter reinterated, though, that, after discussing with the executive team, they “believe we have reached a fair decision” by providing the afforementioned amounts and that “there are not additional funds available for an expanded community legacy fund.”
Schaffer explained to the Times she just wants Canfor to come back to the table.
“I’d like them to come back to the table and invest in our community,” she said. “They didn’t invest in it very well when they were here, so we’d like them to invest.”
The Times reached out to Canfor by email for a statement after speaking with Schaffer. They responded by email as follows:
“Canfor deeply regrets the significant impact the closure of the Vavenby sawmill has had on our employees and contractors, along with the local communities. We were fortunate to operate in the region and took pride in giving back to the community every year.
“Our employees have been active members of the community as volunteers and financial donors supporting many of the local nonprofit organizations.
“Canfor is providing $375,000 in legacy funding to the region, through the United Way, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District and the District of Clearwater. The funds are being used to support people in need, community programming and infrastructure projects.
“We appreciate the support we received from the local communities and are pleased we were able to expedite the sale of the Vavenby assets to a new owner who is committed to repurposing the site to generate economic activity which will benefit the local communities.”