Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup says there's no need for the Miramichi Lumber Products Inc. sawmill to close on Friday.
The northern lumber mill announced last week it would be temporarily shutting down on July 26 and laying off 110 people, saying it’s getting only 40 per cent of the wood from Crown land that it needs to survive.
But Northrup contends the mill has plenty of allocation it hasn't harvested yet.
"What I would most like to see today is the company harvesting the entire remaining 120,000 cubic metres of its Crown allocation and using this wood to keep its mill operating and its workers on the job," he said in a statement on Thursday, breaking three days of silence on the issue.
Miramichi Lumber Products Inc.'s (MLPI) chief financial officer Hal Raper told reporters the mill will close on Friday, as scheduled.
He is hopeful, however, that trading logs between companies could allow the mill to reopen within weeks, he said.
Earlier this week, Raper had accused the company that manages public forests in the area, Fornebu, of diverting some allocation to J.D. Irving Ltd.
But Northrup says Fornebu has been acting properly.
"In the case of MLPI, I am confident that the licensee on Crown Timber Licence 3 has carried out its responsibilities as mandated by the province. These include ensuring MLPI has the blocks necessary to harvest its entire Crown wood allocation this year," the minister said in the written statement.
"I am also confident the licensee and other sub-licensees on Crown Timber Licence 3 have conducted themselves in a professional, business-like manner in their dealings with MLPI."
Will help find solutions
Northrup said there's no question MLPI has been through "trying times" in recent years, including a number of closures.
"I want to assure the people who work at this mill and the people of the Miramichi that I will continue to work with MLPI to try to find short-term and long-term solutions that can support the continuation of the company's operations without negatively impacting other mills in the province," he said.
Miramichi Tory MLA Jake Stewart says he supports the minister's decision to urge the company to cut its wood.
"Looking at the paper, I would suggest they have a lot of land still to cut. And close to 80 per cent of that is saw log, which is basically their cream of the crop. That's what they need," Stewart told CBC News.
MLPI has a Crown allocation of 126,488 cubic metres of saw material, which, on average, translates into 75,600 cubic metres of large-diametre logs and 50,400 cubic metres of studwood, said Northrup.
So far this year, the company has harvested only 5,228 cubic metres of its allocation, he said.
"The 126,488 cubic metres of saw material at the company's disposal is more than double the allocation MLPI had back in 2007 when it was known as Newcastle Lumber," Northrup added.
Green Party wants new forest service
But Green Party Leader David Coon is calling on the Alward government to create a new forest service to take over managing Crown lands from corporate licence holders and award those licences to communities instead.
"The privatization experiment begun in 1982 is an abject failure and must be abandoned, Coon said in a statement, calling the current system "corrupted."
"Decisions about which companies get how much of what kind of wood from Crown lands are currently made in Fredericton behind closed doors," he said.
"Crown lands must be publicly controlled, since they are supposed to be held in trust to serve the common good."