Tolko announced Wednesday it will make capital investments at its two operations in Williams Lake.
“Between Lakeview and Soda Creek it’s going to be around a $20 million investment this year,” Soda Creek plant manager Ryan Oliver told the Tribune.
Work is already underway at the Soda Creek mill, with ground preparation and paving, he added.
“We will be working on the foundation for the new building in September and all the equipment is ordered and being built right now.”
The majority of the equipment is coming out of Quebec.
Oliver participated in a tour of Sweden earlier in the year to see the equipment operate and said presently that’s the only place currently running it in the world right now.
Everything behind the planer and the in-feed is being replaced. The slow-down system into a full optimized grader and then into a brand new sorting line.
“Currently we have a state-of-the-art sawmill that is very efficient at running small beetle kill logs, our planer on the other hand is very archaic and really belongs in a museum,” Oliver said.
“We’ve still got a dry chain on there so we are taking all that out and putting in an automated sorting line.”
The biggest reasons for the capital upgrades are cost reduction and the ability to sort more grades for other markets.
Right now Soda Creek sells wood to China because it doesn’t have the capability of sorting it, Oliver explained.
“When we put in a sorting line now we can start pulling higher grades for Japan and even upper grades for the U.S. that we can get a bigger premium on rather than limiting how much we grade and then shipping it all off to China.”
The project at Soda Creek is the biggest capital project within Tolko this year, he added.
Lakeview manager Mark Everard said Lakeview Lumber is embarking on a major refit of the sawmill’s backend.
“This refit will include more sorting capacity, new controls, new scanning, a new trimmer, and a new stacker.
“We will begin construction on civil, structural, and electrical this fall with completion of this project slated for March 2014,” Everard said. “Where appropriate we are using local vendors and contractors to help us with this project. This project will significantly enhance Lakeview’s safety, efficiency, productivity, and cost structure.”
The investments will allow the mills to run as smoothly and efficiently as possible and position them for long term success in a competitive market, Mark Stevens, General Manager, Cariboo Lumber stated in a press release.
“This is a very exciting time for both Soda Creek and Lakeview and we are looking forward to the future at these divisions.”
Upgrades at Soda Creek are expected to be completed by December 2013 while Lakeview is scheduled for completion in April 2014.
“We are excited about the future at Williams Lake. These projects are not only positive news for our operations and employees, but also for the community. Creating competitive, successful operations at Lakeview and Soda Creek certainly bodes well for the economy of the area,” Stevens said.
“Improvement is key to our business strategy,” said CEO, Brad Thorlakson. “These operational upgrades don’t just affect Tolko, as a company; they also facilitate our sawmill employees and divisional managers in their day-to-day jobs. I couldn’t be more proud of the work our employees are already doing, and I’m excited to see where these advancements will lead us in the future.”
Stevens added that a number of smaller capital improvement projects will also be undertaken in both mills during this same time period.
Oliver said there’s no question there will be positions lost as a result of the capital project, however, with present demographics Soda Creek is constantly hiring people due to retirement.
“We’re also expanding our apprenticeship program for the trades. We have a lot of people who are going to be retiring in the next two to three years throughout our trades so we’ve stepped up how many apprentices we have.”
Presently there are 160 employees at Soda Creek.