For the first time since Christmas, unionized employees will walk through the gates of the Stora Enso paper mill in Port Hawkesbury.

Stora spokesperson Patricia Dietz said the 30 people coming back on Wednesday will be the first of many.

"Each week after this week, we'll be getting more employees and we'll ramp up to about 200-plus hourly employees by September," said Dietz.

Stora officials closed the plant on Dec. 24 for a short Christmas break and decided not to reopen it while contract talks were underway.

On Jan. 26, the company locked out 650 workers after a contract offer was rejected.

Workers narrowly voted to accept a new deal in June.

Awaiting word on power rate

The company had announced last week it would recall the first 30 workers on Wednesday, while another 30 will return to work next week.

The company wants to get the mill ready for full operation if it gets the new power rate it wants.

Stora has a power rate hearing early in September before the Utility and Review Board and hopes to hear the board's decision by the end of that month. Once the rate is known, the company will decide whether to reopen the mill permanently and bring back all workers.

"The whole purpose of us bringing back some of the hourly employees is to make early preparations to begin mill operations as soon as possible," said Dietz.

Stora is one of the largest employers in the Canso Strait area. In addition to the 650 employees at the plant, hundreds of people cut, sell or truck wood to the plant.