J.D. Irving Ltd. is forcefully rejecting suggestions that a shift of some Crown wood to their Chipman mill is to blame for the looming shutdown of a Miramichi sawmill.
Irving spokesperson Mary Keith says Miramichi Lumber Products has plenty of its own allocation on Crown lands that it hasn’t used.
Miramichi Lumber CFO Hal Raper previously told CBC News that the licensee operating the public forests in the Miramichi area, Fornebu, was allowing saw logs to go to JDI, depriving the local mill of that wood.
That prompted a strongly-worded statement from Keith, who called the suggestion "absolutely false."
"Our company has in fact been working with Miramichi Lumber Products to buy their wood chips and send saw logs to their mill," said Keith. "The allocations are a matter of public record and we are fully compliant."
She said Miramichi Lumber "have never harvested the full amount allocated to them" in any of the last four years.
The company has not operated year-round in any of the last four years, which may explain why it hasn’t used all of its allocation.
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Miramichi Lumber said last week it would shut down this Friday, laying off 110 people, because it’s only been able to secure 40 per cent of its allocation of wood from publicly-owned forest land.
"Everybody wants more wood," Raper said on Monday. "I think the government has to decide what their priority is and who they're going to support."
Raper said Fornebu was able to send logs to Irving because the province wasn’t enforcing usage standards, which set out how much of the tree can be used for saw logs and how much for stud logs.
'All the allocated users are getting their allocation today as the government dictates.' —Fornebu CEO Kevin Jewett
For the second straight day, the Department of Natural Resources has not made anyone available to respond to Raper’s comments or to clarify the complex rules surrounding the use of Crown land.
Fornebu CEO Kevin Jewett also rejected Raper’s allegations, saying Miramichi Lumber is free to cut the wood it needs.
"All the allocated users are getting their allocation today as the government dictates," he said. "So J.D. Irving is getting the wood they have the right to take, and MLPI, Hal Raper’s mill, has been given access to the wood that they have the right to take."
Miramichi Mayor Gerry Cormier told CBC News that cabinet minister Robert Trevors, a Miramichi-area MLA, has promised a fix that will keep Miramichi Lumber running for four to five weeks.
But Cormier could not say where the wood supply will come from. "You’d have to ask the minister."
Irving demand for wood supply
Raper’s comments came as J.D. Irving Ltd. continued its ongoing push to get the province to commit to increasing the Crown wood supply for industry over a longer term.
Last year, Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup announced he was keeping the annual allowable softwood cut at the same level. He also doubled the normal management plan from five years to 10, to give companies more predictability.
Irving says that’s an improvement, but it doesn’t go far enough. Keith said it doesn’t provide "the long-term certainty of wood supply to warrant hundreds of millions of dollars of investment.
"We need to know the government is interested and is working to grow the wood supply."
Keith says JDI is one of several forestry companies prepared to invest a total of almost $1 billion in its facilities, but only if the wood supply is secure. She said that would include a major upgrade to the company’s Saint John pulp mill.
"We need a longer-term view and a longer-term determination of what the timber objectives, what the timber supply is going to be, so we can go forward with investments," Keith said.
Green Party Leader David Coon criticized Irving’s "unrelenting demand" for more wood, pointing to the looming closure of Miramichi Lumber as a casualty of the company’s constant push for growth.
"It's not a question of wood supply," Coon said. "It's a question of competition for the wood between the big guys and the independents."