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Mackenzie mill termination brings closure after lengthy curtailment

The closure of the Paper Excellence pulp mill in Mackenzie comes as a disappointing, but not entirely unexpected, blow to the forestry dependent community.

Mackenzie Mayor Joan Atkinson says the past nine months have brought feelings of uncertainty in her area.

“We were always hoping that mill would come back. It’s been curtailed before but at the same time it does not come as a huge surprise,” she said.

“We’re a resilient community though, we’ve proven that many, many times.”

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The mill has been down for about nine months, curtailed in June 2020 due to COVID-19 impacts.

Paper Excellence made the announcement today (Thursday), citing the facility’s small production capacity and the ongoing lack of economic fibre.

“Since acquiring the Mackenzie mill in 2010, Paper Excellence has invested more than $360 million in the facility. However, despite these investments and the committed team of employees in Mackenzie, the facility’s small production capacity and the ongoing lack of local economic fibre meant the mill could not be globally competitive,” said the company in a statement

Atkinson says the challenges with getting fibre for the mill quickly became ‘next to impossible’ after the closure of the Canfor mill in July 2019.

“Paper Excellence was chipping whole pulp logs to try and make a go of it. The conversations I’ve had with the company today say it’s just a money-losing operation right now,” she said.

With the disappointment comes a sense of closure.

Since the curtailment, the community has been left in limbo — now employees and families are able to make decisions about what comes next.

“They can move on, there is no more uncertainty about what’s going to happen. It’s not the news that we wanted to hear but at least we know,” she said.

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“The transition happened back in August when the last of the employees left the pulp mill.”

Meanwhile, an intention paper will be released by the Council of Forestry Industries next month to chart the path forward for the forestry industry in the province.

Canfor continues to harvest in the Mackenzie timber supply area but moves those logs elsewhere to process.

“The resource this community was built to support is still providing huge profits to the companies that are harvesting in the Mackenzie TSA, and there are many of them, but they choose not to process the logs here,” said Atkinson.

She hopes tenure will be taken back and redistributed to support local positions, possibly adding other mill locations in the future.

“I’m very confident that we will ride this through and come back stronger.”

Gaseous, liquid and solid chemicals, as well as residues, have been removed from the Mackenzie mill site.

Currently, a small team of employees is monitoring the facility while the company decides how to repurpose it in the future.

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