Botwood eyes wood chip project as biofuel plant bites dust

A U.K.-based company has set up shop in central Newfoundland with hopes of shipping wood fibres across the ocean and bringing hundreds of jobs to Botwood.

Mayor says latest proposal would see 145 jobs at start of operations

A U.K.-based company is looking to start a major wood fibre project in central Newfoundland. (Chris Corday/CBC)

A U.K.-based company has set up shop in central Newfoundland with hopes of shipping wood fibres across the ocean and bringing hundreds of jobs to Botwood.

Details of the proposal are emerging in the wake of news that an earlier proposal by a different company to set up a biofuel plant in the town will not go ahead.

Bulk Logistics has set its sights on the 285,000 cubic metres of wood fibres once belonging to Abitibi, which fueled industry in Botwood for decades.

If it can reach a deal for the timber rights, the company will use local sawmills to process the wood and send it to international markets, including a plant in Wales.

"They will ship wood chips over there and have a market they can continuously go to," said Botwood Mayor Scott Sceviour.

The Welsh plant, operated by a company called Orphios, is expected to go online by late 2019 and will require 1.9 million tonnes of wood chips annually to operate.

Botwood Harbour rarely sees more than a Coast Guard vessel these days, but hopes remain that industry will return to the port. (Submitted by Linda Lane)

If the project moves forward, Bulk Logistics would purchase shares in Harold Sheppard Limited, which operates a sawmill in nearby Point Leamington.

The company plans to increase sawmilling operations from one million board-feet per year to around seven to 10 million, and open a new sawmill on the Botwood highway.

The town would also see a log-sorting yard, a wood-chipping operation and ship the product out from its waterfront.

Company forecasting more jobs in future

Sceviour said the company projects 300-plus jobs within three to five years.

But those projections depend on a number of factors falling in place, Sceviour said, and the company is focused on starting small.

The mayor said this is different from a previous proposal from Newgreen Technology, which was contemplating a $185-million biofuel facility.

That project reached a tentative agreement last February with the provincial government for the timber rights now sought by Bulk Logistics.

But the agreement was terminated when the company failed to make progress on the project within six months of signing. CBC News obtained hundreds of provincial government emails which showed the project caught in a bureaucratic tangle involving multiple departments.

The Town of Botwood has been aggressively pursuing industry partners since Abitibi left the region nearly 10 years ago. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

"Newgreen wanted to come in and they wanted to ramp it up to full-fledged production with everything going full tilt right from Day One," Sceviour said. "There was really no big amount of foresight there. But [Bulk Logistics] want to prove they can do it."

While Bulk Logistics has the cooperation of the local sawmill and the municipality, it has yet to reach a deal for the wood fibre. 

"We're working with government and we're right back to square one where we need to get a fibre allocation," Sceviour said.

Bulk Logistics has sent one of its employees — Rod Black, originally from Grand Falls-Windsor — to handle operations in the province.

"I thought it was a great project from the standpoint of trying to put some central Newfoundlanders back to work in an industry that's been inherently ours for 100-plus years," Black said.

According to Black, the jobs would start at $20 per hour and be "generational" — meaning they would last 25 years or more.

Problems with Kruger?

When asked if the project will see any interference or political pressure from Kruger — the forestry giant that operates the Corner Brook pulp and paper mill — Sceviour said it is likely.

Kruger supplies logs to some of the largest sawmills in the province in exchange for the leftovers used to make newsprint.

Sceviour said the industry in Newfoundland and Labrador has come to rely on Kruger — perhaps too heavily.

"This is an opportunity to diversify the forestry industry so that if something was to happen with Kruger going down, the forestry industry won't die."