Tolko Industries Ltd. announced Nov. 16 it will permanently close its Creekside mill in Williams Lake.
The closure will not affect its Lakeview and Soda Creek mills the company said, adding it will now turn its focus to making the Lakeview and Soda Creek mills in the city commercially competitive over the long run.
The company purchased the Creekside dimension lumber mill in October 2004, along with the Lakeview and Soda Creek mills. The two facilities at the Creekside site were previously owned by Riverside Forest Products.
At this point Tolko does not know what will happen with the Creekside mill assets.
Site manager Mike Everard said Tolko’s immediate focus is to meet its obligations to the people that were employed at the Creekside, adding 46 per cent of the employees went to other Tolko operations.
“We are largely focused on looking after our obligations in a timely and accurate fashion,” Everard explained, adding there are 167 affected employees. “There are collective bargaining agreement requirements to be met and there is also the employment standard’s act requirements to be met. Tolko is fulfilling those obligations to the letter.”
United Steelworkers Local 1-425 president Paul French said the union is making the best of a bad situation.
“We have been watching this for some time with the sawmill not running and the planer running periodically. It’s been quite a hardship on our members, quite a few of them have found jobs elsewhere, but we’ve had quite a few people that were forced into retirement.”
The union is “quite relieved” that Tolko has come forward and said the best decision is for Tolko to announce closure and hopefully make Lakeview a better sight, French said, adding the union applauds the company for “doing the right thing.”
“They followed the collective agreement and so we’re appreciative they’ve done this. People will get severance. There are people that have already got employment within Tolko’s other two divisions. The big thing is it gives people certainty. They know where they are.”
Since the temporary closure in 2009, it has been difficult because employees didn’t know if it was going to reopen or not.
“It’s always been the story that it was going to reopen so there was always the hope that something was going to happen. At least now they know that today has come and we have to move forward and get on with our lives,” French said.
When an indefinite curtailment of the mill’s operations was first announced on Feb. 4 in 2009, the market had shrunk to one quarter of its former size, Everard said.
“That was crushing. It was very very hard. The forest industry went through its worse economic period in recorded history, worse than the 1940s. It’s been brutal. I think all the forest companies did what they had to do to survive. At this point the current industry demand is still half of what it was.”
French agreed the decline in the market for dimension lumber was a main factor in the closure of Creekside, as well as the uncertainty of the timber supply.
“Without anyone really knowing the true inventory that’s out there, the real picture for Tolko, I’m hoping, is that they are going to have what they have and survive. That they’ll be looking out for the best interest of Tolko within the community of Williams Lake. I’m applauding that goal.”
People have forgotten that the mill has been closed as long as it was, French added.
“It doesn’t affect you when your neighbour’s laid off or the guy down the road, but when it happens to you, that’s when reality hits. I guess the thing here is that it lightens the burden on an awful lot of people and hopefully this is the last closure we see in Williams Lake.”