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First nation boasts new park: Bowater on board as anchor tenant in new industrial park.

In the Hollywood version, a farmer builds a baseball diamond in his cornfield and Shoeless Joe brings his buddies to play ball. In the Northern Ontario version, Fort William First Nation is building an industrial park, and Bowater Inc. is coming to saw logs.

An agreement between Fort William First Nation, Bowater Inc. and the federal government will result in the building of a large, modern sawmill in Thunder Bay. The sawmill will be the first tenant - the anchor in a new industrial park owned by Fort William First Nation. Close to the Kamanistiquia River, the site is almost directly across the river from Bowater's Thunder Bay pulp and paper plant.

Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins is confident the establishment of the Bowater sawmill will spark further developments at the industrial park and will lead to job creation for residents.

"This project is a model for First Nations economic development that works for everyone," says Collins. "This kind of partnership between a First Nation, a private corporation and the federal government will go a long way toward creating much-needed employment for our members, and will benefit Thunder Bay as a whole. And this is only the beginning of a major influx of new development for our industrial park."

"You won't recognize this place in 10 years," Collins adds.

The park, on land which the Canadian National Railway Co. returned to Fort William First Nation in 1999, is about 1,100 acres in size and offers plenty of room for more industrial tenants, as the new sawmill site will only occupy about 39 acres.

As its part of the arrangement, Fort William First Nation will construct a building to house the sawmill on the new site. The total cost of the building will be $14 million. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada through the Major Business Projects Program (MBPP) will provide $7 million in funding for the project. Of the remaining $7 million, $725,000 will be provided by Fort William First Nation in the form of land and funding, and the rest has been secured through a bank loan.

The Fort William sawmill is part of Bowater's fibre- optimization project, a plan that Will see the company spend $90 million in northwestern Ontario, says Bill Roll, Bowater's manager of forestry and government affairs.

This price tag includes the purchase and renovation of the recently acquired sawmill at Ignace and the purchase and installation of all equipment at the Fort William site, which Bowater will lease on along-term, renewable basis from Fort William First Nation.

The Fort William sawmill will produce two-inch by four-inch and two-inch by six-inch softwood lumber and will have an annual capacity of 180 million board feet. Together, the two mills have the capacity to produce 265 million board feet of planed, dried lumber annually.

The two sawmills will work in co-ordination with the existing pulp and paper facility in Thunder Bay, with the goal of minimizing waste of woodland resources.

The new sawmills are designed to use tree lengths down to a tip diameter of two inches, as compared to the older method which only utilised trees to a tip diameter of four inches. This extra tip length, too small to produce two-inch by four-inch lumber, will be debarked and used as raw material for pulp and paper manufacture.

The Ignace mill will produce rough, green lumber which will be kiln dried and planed by the new plant at Fort William. Shavings from the planing operation will be used to provide heat for the thermal oil system which is used to dry the lumber.

Fibre from the de-barking process, known as "hog fuel," will be used by the Bowater pulp and paper plant in Thunder Bay to fuel energy systems. Tips and residual wood from the sawmill process will be chipped and used as raw material in the manufacture of pulp and paper at the Thunder Bay site. Sawdust from the milling operations will be sold on the open market or added to the hog fuel. By coordinating the three sites closely, very little of the tree will go to waste, says Luke Drapeau, general manager of Bowater Ontario Sawmills.

The fibre optimization project will mean significant changes in how raw materials are transported, Drapeau says. Less wood will be trucked from the forest in the form of chips, and more will leave in the form of tree-length logs. Also, green lumber will be trucked from the Ignace sawmill to the Fort William site. The chips and hog fuel produced at the Fort William site will be trucked to the pulp and paper facility. It is estimated that about 50 per cent of the finished, kiln-dried and planed lumber will leave the Fort William sawmill for market by rail, while the remainder will leave by truck.

Construction of the new building at the industrial park has already started. Bowater plans to begin the operation of the planer, kilns and energy system at the Fort William site by November 2002, with operation of the sawmill itself commencing in January 2003. The sawmill at Ignace will start operation in July, 2002.

The mill will offer immediate employment benefits to the area. The construction of the site will generate approximately 40 jobs for First Nations members. When production starts, the mill will employ 158 people directly, while another 55 indirect jobs are projected in the fuel sale, transportation and restaurant industries. In total, the mill could create over 250 new jobs.

Bowater supports the idea of a workforce that represents "local demographics," says Bowater communications officer Susan Prodaniuk. In the case of the new plant, "approximately 30 per cent of the jobs go to First Nation members," Prodaniuk says.

Fort William First Nation industrial park was an ideal location for the mill because it was price-competitive and also allows "Bowater to work with a trusted business partner," says Roll.
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Author:Winkelaar, Felix
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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