Employees at Canfor’s Vavenby mill received a letter on June 3, announcing the closure of the facility along with the termination of 172 jobs.
“To all USW 1-417 employees of Vavenby, unfortunately we’ve been facing significant log supply constraints in the Vavenby region for some time now and we’ve ultimately determined that we do not have sufficient fibre supply to support the ongoing operation of this mill,” read the letter.
“The fibre supply shortage issue is further compounded by very high log costs. As a result, we’ve made the very difficult decision to permanently close the mill.”
Madeline Capostinsky, who was a planer technician at the mill, said there was an atmosphere of shock when the announcement was delivered.
“Nobody was expecting it,” she said. “We kept thinking we could limp through this; nobody really expected a permanent shutdown. We’ve limped through before and we thought we could limp through again.”
Capostinksky added the mill shut down in February for six weeks, and also for a couple of weeks at Christmas as well as a week or so in April.
The letter employees received went on to say the company’s decision in permanently closing the operation wasn’t a reflection of the employees in Vavenby, but simply driven by the conditions related to the fibre shortage and high log cost, which made the mill uneconomic.
“We deeply regret the significant impact this will have on our employees, their families and the communities of Vavenby and Clearwater. This closure will affect 172 direct employees,” the letter said.
The wind-down of the operation will start June 4 and the dates of termination for employees will be staggered based on their individual roles and take place throughout the rest of June until July 31.
“Once we have finalized the wind-down plan, we will be following up with an individual letter that sets out the specific termination dates for each employee.”
Canfor has reached an agreement to sell the forest tenure associated with the Vavenby sawmill to Interfor for $60 million.
“The BC forest industry has recognized for several years that sawmill capacity must be reduced as the annual allowable cut decreases following the end of the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic,” said Don Kayne, president and CEO, Canfor, in a press release.
Merlin Blackwell, mayor of the District Clearwater (DOC), said in a statement that the entire community will be affected by the mill’s closure and the DOC is already working with its regional, provincial and federal counterparts to find ways to support employees facing layoffs.
He noted the community has faced similar situations with big-time employers having long term shutdowns in the past, but admitted Canfor’s permanent closure “adds a new level of seriousness.”
“We have also been in contact with both Canfor and Interfor, and will work closely with them to transition as many people into new opportunities within Interfor’s operations; hopefully industry and government can come together to assist those close to retirement age to bridge the gap to early retirement,” his statement said.
“The Clearwater Forestry Working Group (a standing committee of Clearwater council), has already been working on secondary manufacturing ideas in anticipation of a changing industry, as well as coming up with other ways we can keep jobs in the local economy utilizing the skills of our forestry professionals, even if those jobs aren’t in lumber production.
“Clearwater is a strong community, this will be tough, but we will get through this.”