By Lynne Brown – Special to FirstLocalNews
MPP Graydon Smith, Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) was in Thunder Bay Tuesday, January 30th, 2024 announcing a significant investment in several projects, including at Thunder Bay Pulp & Paper (TBPP). The TBPP Mill received $5 million of an announced 9.4 million dollars, shared among 14 northwestern Ontario entities & their respective research, innovation and modernization initiatives under the umbrella of the provinces’ Forest Biomass Action Plan (FBAP).
The FBAP states that the ‘potential for biomass products is ever-expanding; emerging biomass uses include medicine, bioplastics, 3D printing, mass timber products, biodiesel, and jet fuel, to name a few. Biomass innovations are a sustainable alternative to carbon-intensive products and an exciting new frontier for Ontario’s forest sector.’
The media release states Thunder Bay Pulp and Paper will use the investment ‘to modernize the mill’s electrical system by upgrading and improving equipment, enabling future measures to expand green energy production, reduce emissions and increase forest biomass usage.’
“The Forest Biomass Program is essential to the future of our industry. This year’s program has helped to bolster the efficiency of our green power generation infrastructure, ensuring our partnerships with the supply chain extend far into the forests of Northwestern Ontario. “stated Kent Ramsay, President, Thunder Bay Pulp & Paper.
According to Natural Resources Canada, forest biomass includes all parts of the tree, not only the trunk but also the bark, the branches, the needles or leaves, and even the roots. Biomass can be converted into solid, liquid, or gaseous biofuels that can then be burned for energy or used as fuel substitutes for transportation or industrial processes.
During the media conference in Thunder Bay, MNRF Minister Smith was asked by reporters about AV Terrace Bay Mill and any developments therein.
MPP Smith said that he reached out to Terrace Bay Mayor Paul Malashewski, and “two other mayors in the region”, immediately following the January 2nd announcement by AV Terrace Bay that the mill was moving into ‘warm idling’ and several hundred people were being laid off.
Minister Smith stated that he met with stakeholders, including Mayor Malashewski during ROMA 2024 (Rural Ontario Municipal Association) January 21 – 23 and that his government is “prepared to facilitate conversations. We’re prepared to speak with Aditya Birla Group (ABG) or anybody else that may be interested in operating that mill. It’s our goal to have that mill operational again.”
Pressed on the point of communication with AV Terrace Bay, MPP Smith stated that his government has been in contact with the Mill, “But it takes two to have a conversation. It’s really up to how much ABG wants to have a conversation. I understand that there is disappointment in the community at the amount of contact, I think, that the company has had with those in the community and with the workforce. It was a very short and terse (Jan. 2nd) press release that announced the (AV Mill) idling and so I think it’s left people with more questions than answers.”
Minister Smith further stated, “They (ABG) have not given us a clear path to what their future operation looks like. They have not ruled out a sale, to my knowledge, and have not ruled out any options for the future. I call that good news. But at the same time, there are workers right now that want to know what the future looks like and a community that wants to know what the future looks like. If we can facilitate that answer, we’ll do that, but we can’t force them into a conversation with anybody.”
On the topic of ‘wood rights’, Minister Smith stated that he understood the concerns put forward by the unions represented at the AV Terrace Bay Mill, as well as community stakeholders with regards to the ‘wood rights’ which are part of the AVG equation.
Wood rights or timber rights, means the right to harvest trees and extract timber from a specified area of land.
AV Terrace Bay is a bleached softwood kraft pulp mill and according to its website ‘produces over 330,000 tonnes of paper grade pulp annually. With 70% of the company’s wood basket consisting of the much sought-after black spruce, its pulp contains long fibres with structural properties that provide exceptional strength to the product.
The heart of AV Terrace Bay’s ‘wood basket’ lies in the Kenogami, Lake Nipigon, Big Pic and Pic River Forests, encompassing some 2,100,000 hectares of productive forest stands.
Forest management activities in Ontario are implemented under numerous pieces of Federal and Provincial legislation. The key piece of legislation in Ontario is the Crown Forest Sustainability Act RSO 1994.
‘The portion of Ontario Crown Land on which commercial forestry activities takes place is divided into 42 Forest Management Units (FMUs).
Each of these FMUs is managed through the issuance of a Sustainable Forest License (SFL) to one of a number of different types of management organizations (forest industry companies, partnerships, co-operative groups, stakeholder groups, First Nations and in some cases the Province itself).
‘AVTB sources fibre from 9 of these FMUs directly—our 4 primary supply FMU’s being the Kenogami, Lake Nipigon, Big Pic and Pic River Forests.
AVTB does not hold any SFLs themselves and does not directly manage any of the areas from which it sources fibre. The majority of our wood supply is sourced from forests managed by the Province or by co-operative stakeholder management entities.’ (avterracebay.com)
Terrace Bay Schreiber News reached out to MPP Kevin Holland Minister of Northern Development & Minister of Indigenous Affairs (Superior North-Atikokan) who shared the following statement.
“The Ontario government is disappointed over AVTB’s decision to idle the Terrace Bay mill, a key employer and economic driver in the region. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) has been working with other ministries, including Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (MLITSD) and Northern Development (MND) to support affected workers, families, and communities.
MLITSD has reached out to the Township of Terrace Bay, worker unions, and service partners, offering help through the Rapid Re-Employment and Training Service program. This program connects affected workers with Employment Ontario services to facilitate reemployment.
MND is in discussions with Terrace Bay officials regarding potential provincial supports, and collaboration with federal partners is underway for joint economic development opportunities.
MNRF provides support to the forestry sector through programs like the Forest Sector Investment and Innovation Program, which allocates $41 million to 15 businesses, and the Ontario Forest Biomass Program, a $19.6 million initiative promoting the economic and environmental benefits of forest biomass utilization.
Our government will continue working hard to support workers and communities during this challenging time.”
Thunder Bay-Superior North MPP Lise Vaugeois has been proactive since the outset of the Mills January 2nd shutdown, travelling to Terrace Bay a number of times, including a trip with Ontario’s official Opposition Leader, MPP Marit Stiles on January 17th, 2024. In her capacity as a regional elected official at Queen’s Park, Vaugeois has been working to build ‘all parties at all levels of government’ momentum, towards a hopeful resolution for the workers and communities affected by the AV Terrace Bay Mill ‘warm idling’ situation.
A highly sought meeting by the USW District 6, Local 665 with AV Terrace Bay did take place on Thursday, January 25th. It was a labour management meeting for USW 665 and the employer.
Cody Alexander, Staff Representative, United Steelworkers District 6 said, “The meeting did not bring anything new to the table. The Company is not willing to share much and spent a lot of time reiterating that they are under confidentiality agreements with the government and potential buyers.
The silver lining is that there are discussions about/with potential buyers. It is not clear to us that AV wants to sell the mill, but clearer that that they may be open to entertain the possibility.
The Company maintains that this idle is market related and a result of increased input costs, and when asked what it would take to reopen, better market prices were referenced.
As a union, we are going to remain optimistic and monitor the situation over the next couple of weeks. Everyone agrees that we need to prioritize re-opening sooner than later, which gives us confidence that we will get the required help to restart when that time comes.
USW is continuing to work with MPP Marit Stiles (NDP leader of official opposition at Queen’s Park) and Lise Vaugeois (Thunder Bay-Superior North) and the NDP to put pressure on, and to advocate for swift and effective action from the provincial government to get the ball rolling on either reopening or selling the mill, and doing what it takes to keep our members working. Additionally, we are still offering an invitation to Dennis Visitin, the CEO at AV Terrace to meet with our USW District 6 Director, Myles Sullivan, to have a discussion on how we can work together to achieve the best outcome for all stakeholders. So far, Dennis Visintin has not responded to multiple requests to meet.”
As AV Terrace Bay Mill continues to idle, affected workers and communities from Marathon to Nipigon continue to worry about what may lie ahead.