Deersdale mill workers seek greater access to wood

Workers facing layoffs at an Irving sawmill near Juniper say the province has the power to save their jobs by allowing more wood-cutting on Crown land.

Workers who are facing layoffs at an Irving sawmill near Juniper say the province has the power to save their jobs.

The Deersdale mill is scheduled to shut down indefinitely on Oct. 28.

Irving said the reason the mill is closing is because there's not enough wood.

The provincial Department of Natural Resources has a plan to reduce the amount of wood forestry companies can cut on public land over a five-year cycle, starting next year.

Raymond Cullins, who works at the Deersdale mill, said the Alward government has to cancel that reduction.

"We need more affordable wood," he told CBC News on Thursday.

"More Crown allotment is what it boils down to."

Barry Walker, another mill worker, said he agrees.

"The government has cut us off from the wood and we're hoping that they'll reconsider," he said.

Sixty-five unionized employees and eight staff members work at the mill.

Job losses will be felt

Judy Lutes, who works with several community volunteer groups in Juniper, said she expects to feel the impact of the job losses throughout the community.

"People just aren't — they can't be generous. They can't give. The mill closes, people don't come to our auctions, people don't come to our fundraisers," she said.

"This weekend coming up we're having a breakfast to raise some money for a couple of families here who are having a difficult time. We'll have a poor showing. There's no question."

Three years ago Juniper lost the Fraser Papers lumber mill. Some workers from that mill came to the Deersdale mill.

Alan Decker said this will be a second blow to the community.

"I kind of thought that would be over and we wouldn't have to deal with that again. And here we are," he said.

Mary Keith, a spokesman for J.D. Irving Ltd., said if the wood supply is available the mill could stay open.

"We're hopeful that with an increased and competitive wood supply, that we'll resume operations at Deersdale," she said.

The reduction in wood cutting over the next five years is supposed to allow the forest to replenish.  

The Alward government said it will decide on the allowable amount of wood harvested on Crown land, later this fall.