Conifex sawmill in Fort St. James. (Conifex)

Conifex curtailing sawmill operation for three weeks

150 production employees have been impacted since November

Volatile lumber prices have forced Fort St. James sawmill to curtail its operations.

Conifex Timber Inc. announced Feb. 4 that it is temporarily curtailing sawmill operations at its Fort St. James sawmill for three weeks.

“Market conditions continue to be challenging due to a combination of high structural log costs and volatile lumber prices. So we have made the difficult decision to temporarily curtail our Fort St. James operations for three weeks starting Feb. 4 and we will continue to monitor conditions on a weekly basis,” said Sandy Ferguson, vice-president of corporate affairs and business development for Conifex Timber Inc.

A total of 150 production employees have been impacted by the curtailment, she said, adding that 70 of them were part of the six month temporary reduction that was announced at the end of November.

In Dec. 2018, Conifex announced that on a temporary reduction basis they would be moving to a single line. “So it’s a combination of single line reduction that would probably be in effect for six months as well as this three week curtailment which brings us up to a 28 percent reduction,” Ferguson said.

This is not the first time in recent months that Conifex has announced curtailment. They announced one on Nov. 12, 2018 for a two-week period for the same reason — log costs and current lumber market conditions. In the press release sent out on Nov. 9, 2018 the company announced that they would have an additional two-week curtailment around Christmas which resulted in a total reduction of approximately 15 per cent of Conifex’s B.C. lumber production for the quarter.

READ MORE: Conifex announces a temporary curtailment in operations at Fort St. James mill

Then, at the end of November, they announced temporarily reducing operating capacity at Conifex’s Fort St. James sawmill starting Jan. 1, 2019. The release sent Nov. 30 said the company expected this to continue until mid-2019 resulting in an estimated 25 per cent reduction in Conifex’s B.C. lumber production. And during this period there would be a temporary workforce reduction of approximately 70 employees.

“Conifex expects that a majority of it’s lumber production will be sourced from the lower cost U.S. South supply region in the first half of 2019,” read the Nov. 30 release.

READ MORE: UPDATE: Conifex to reduce production from Jan. 1

Meanwhile, in terms of additional evaluation work, Ferguson said, the management team and employees have been looking at different options available to make the sawmill more sustainable.

Apart from high structural log costs and volatile lumber prices, she said “we are still in a duty environment where we pay 20 percent tariffs when we export to the US and that represents 55 percent of our overall Canadian production. So we have all those three factors that are pushing together in the wrong direction right now.”

Bev Playfair, mayor of Fort St. James said Conifex’s curtailment decision has a instant impact on the District.

“One of my biggest concerns is that I am not sure how long people can weather the storm. Most people need a pay cheque these days and my biggest concern is that people start leaving our community and I have already heard that there are two or three families that have left to find employment elsewhere. So if people start moving out of town that’s even going to have a bigger impact,” Playfair said.

The curtailment has an impact on logging contractors, Conifex’s employees, their families and local businesses, she said.

“We’ve seen this years ago with Canfor when they were in the community. The day after Canfor curtailed — I owned a business [at the time] and for my business the bottom line dropped 40 per cent.”

Conifex isn’t isolated in terms of curtailment of operations. The forest industry in British Columbia is uncertain, Playfair said, noting West Fraser Timber Co., and Canfor announced similar curtailments in sawmill operations [in November and December respectively].

READ MORE: West Fraser curtailment to affect 60 jobs at Fraser Lake sawmill

“I don’t know whether we as the mayor or council have a solution for this. We are feeling for the employees that are out of work right now and local businesses and the scary thing right now is that there isn’t a day they are going to start up again. It comes down to how long people can weather the storm of being out of work which will determine whether they stay in the community,” she said.

Ferguson said, for employees out of work the process of Employment Insurance (E.I.) is a smooth process. Last summer after the wildfire alert Conifex had employees file E.I. claims, “so most of our employees would have already filed a claim and when you have done your initial claims it’s relatively easy to open it.”

Whereas new employees out of work will have to open up an E.I. claim and it is a “relatively smooth process. I think most of the people who work in this sector would be aware of that and we have HR resource people available to help our workforce with that.”


Aman Parhar
Editor, Vanderhoof Omineca Express

aman.parhar@ominecaexpress.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Coastal GasLink work camp in Vanderhoof gets approved by the ALC

The work camp behind the Vanderhoof airport was first rejected by the commission in October last year

Vanderhoof post office closed until further notice

There will be no mail going in or out of the Vanderhoof… Continue reading

Nak’azdli and UNBC form partnership to preserve inter-generational stories

“Stories can empower. Stories can bring people together. Stories can be instructive,”… Continue reading

UNBC professor receives funding to research oilspill response

The $1.9 million in funding was provided by Fisheries and Oceans Canada

B.C. premier talks forestry, service needs with handful of northern mayors in Prince George

Prince George meeting completes premier’s tour of Kitimat, Terrace, Fort St. James and Quesnel

Women take centre stage at NHL all-star skills competition

Canada beat the United States 2-1 in a spirited 3-on-3 game between female players Friday night

BCLC opens novelty bet on Harry and Meghan moving to the west coast

Meanwhile, real estate agency points to four possible homes for the family

Canada slips in global corruption ranking in aftermath of SNC-Lavalin scandal

The country obtained a score of 77, which places it at the top in the Americas

Wuhan bans cars, Hong Kong closes schools as coronavirus spreads

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said her government will raise its response level to emergency, highest one

B.C.’s oldest practising lawyer celebrates 100th birthday, shares advice

Firefighters bring Constance Isherwood a cake with 100 birthday candles

Vernon woman suing McDonald’s for spilled coffee

Woman seeking nearly $10K, says employee failed to put lid on properly

Diners’ health tax not catching on in B.C., restaurant group says

Small businesses look for options to cover employer health tax

B.C. comic wins judgment after club owner slaps cellphone out of his hands

Incident happened last summer when Garrett Clark was performing in Abbotsford

Most Read