Northern residents out of work from sawmill sale voice uncertainty about future

A job fair was held at Kwah Hall in Fort St. James on July 31 to help workers transition to other jobs

Fort St. James held a job fair for workers that are affected by Conifex selling their sawmill to Hampton Lumber in Burns Lake.

The lumber company, which owns the Babine and Decker Lake mills in Burns Lake, will make the purchase for about $39 million, Hampton and Conifex said in a joint press release on June 24.

READ MORE: Hampton to buy Conifex sawmill in Fort St.James

Approximately 226 employees have been affected by the sale.

The job fair was held at Kwah Hall in Fort St. James on July 31 and over 35 employers and 100 residents showed up for the fair which ran for four hours.

Ken Honeywell, a Conifex employee who has worked at the District’s sawmill for 28 years was looking for a job and said his biggest concern is the uncertainty associated with the sale.

He said rumours are circulating that the logs are being moved out of the district, but the mayor and council says that isn’t true.

“No one is telling us anything. You see logs leaving town everyday. Hampton hasn’t confirmed when they will re-open the Fort St. James sawmill. There are rumours that they will re-open the mill here in 2 years. A lot of us cannot wait for that long,” Honeywell said.

He was expecting to find a new position or career as he said,”there seems to be no hope right now. Until the sale gets finalized no one will say anything. It’s like a gag order. You see between 6 to 20 trucks leave the District everyday.”

Honeywell said he has been off work since May 4.

Meanwhile, in a prior interview with Black Press Media, Hampton CEO Steve Zika had said the company’s plan is to dismantle the existing sawmill as some of the equipment may have future value.

Shaune Corrigan, another mill worker at the Fort St. James sawmill who has worked there for 27 years, said he would be happy if Hampton would hire some of the mill workers to tear down the plant.

“We would be happy if Hampton would come and say they are ripping the mill down, hire some of us to pull the steel out, you know do the spark watch, help build the place. That’s the hope I am looking for.”

“If they want to help the community and want to be a part of it, they need to help us too,” Corrigan said. As for moving out of the community, Corrigan said he has investments and property in Fort St. James and it wouldn’t make sense to leave.

“I would much rather retire and open my own food truck that I have been saving for. Yes I would like to work at a mill, that’s my trade, but you do what you got to do,” he added.

Mayor Bev Playfair said she was excited to see the response of the community for the job fair.

“This is how Fort St. James works together. I couldn’t just be more proud of the job that got done today. There was ample opportunity there for employment, right from carpentry to pipeline, equipment operators, first-aid attendants to security. It was amazing how many jobs are out there,” she said.

In terms of information about current negotiations, Playfair said the sale negotiations are in their early stages. She said more information would be made available once District council gets a chance to sit with the provincial government, Hampton and Conifex to confirm the deal.

And in regard to the rumours about logs leaving town, Playfair said, “Since the time I became Mayor, we have a strong stance about no more logs leaving the community and we know Nak’azdli Whut’en stands with us on that.”

With files from Blair McBride


Aman Parhar
Editor, Vanderhoof Omineca Express

aman.parhar@ominecaexpress.com

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Job fair held at Kwah Hall in Fort St. James on July 31. Over 35 employers came for the fair. (Aman Parhar photo)

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