J.D. Irving Ltd. is investing $513 million in its mills across New Brunswick, the company announced to a standing ovation at its west Saint John pulp and paper mill on Thursday.
The announcement comes one day after the Alward government unveiled the province's new forestry plan, which increases the amount of softwood that can be cut annually on Crown land by about 20 per cent, or 660,000 cubic metres.
The Irving Pulp & Paper mill in Saint John will see $450 million in upgrades, said co-CEO Jim Irving.
It is the "largest investment in a pulp mill in Canada since 1993," according to a statement.
The project will generate the equivalent of 600 full-time equivalent jobs, officials said.
Work will begin this spring and will be done in two phases, said Irving.
A new $198-million chip screening and handling system will be first, taking an estimated two years to complete.
It will include a new pulp digester to replace the existing 14 digesters that cook the wood chips, which will reduce air and noise emissions, the company said.
The second phase involves a new $250-million pulp dryer, said Irving. Engineering work will begin this fall, but the construction start date will depend on market conditions. Construction is expected to take about 30 months to complete.
J.D. Irving Ltd. will also make announcements at the Grand Lake Timber Sawmill in Chipman on Friday morning and at the Doaktown White Pine Mill on Friday afternoon.
Additional announcements regarding St. Leonard and Sussex will be coming at the end of the month, the company said.
No federal or provincial funds will be involved, said Irving. The province did its part with the new forestry strategy, he said.
"We appreciate the commitment of the province to ensure a sustainable wood supply that makes this modernization program possible."
J.D. Irving Ltd. and others forestry firms had lobbied for changes to the forestry strategy, saying they were willing to spend $1 billion on mill upgrades and silviculture if the provincial government would let them cut more wood on public land in the years to come.
The companies had argued they needed a reliable wood supply in order to have the confidence to invest in the province.
Saint John Mayor Mel Norton said he is excited about the investment at the local mill.
It will "not only solidify a major employer in our city, but will also assist in maintaining over 160 other businesses in Saint John that provide about $30 million in goods and services a year to this west side facility," he said.