British Columbia

Norbord to indefinitely suspend mill operations in 100 Mile House, B.C.

The company said a mountain pine beetle epidemic and recent forest fires in the area have stunted supply and pushed up wood prices, making operations untenable.

About 160 people will be out of work when mill stops production in August

A helicopter carrying a bucket battles the Gustafsen wildfire near 100 Mile House, B.C., in 2017. Forest fires combined with a pine beetle epidemic have created a wood supply shortage. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Norbord Inc., a global producer of wood products, has announced plans to indefinitely suspend operations at its mill in 100 Mile House in B.C.'s central Interior. 

The move will affect approximately 160 workers at the oriented strand board mill when  operations stop in August.  

The company said a mountain pine beetle epidemic has constricted wood supply over the past decade. And major forest fires in the province further stunted supply and pushed up wood prices making operations untenable. 

"This is a difficult decision in response to extraordinary circumstances," said Peter Wijnbergen, Norbord's president and CEO, in a news release. 

Mayor Mitch Campsall of 100 Mile House says the announcement is devastating.

"Our community is going to suffer drastically because of this. It's a really bad event for us — it's almost as bad as the fires," Campsall said in an interview with CBC, referring to the wildfires that threatened 100 Mile House the last two years. 

Timber prices are currently high in B.C., putting pressure on mills throughout the province. (Dominique Arnoldi/CBC)

Extraordinary circumstances

This isn't the first time production has buckled under high costs in the area. West Fraser Timber cut production in the first quarter of 2019 in some of its markets, including 100 Mile House. It again halted operations for two weeks later in May. 

But the suspension by Norbord — with an annual production capacity of 440 million sq. ft. — is expected to be worse for businesses in 100 Mile House.

"You have to think about 10 per cent of our employees in the whole area are going to lose their jobs. That hurts really bad," said Campsall. "These curtailments that will be coming up are absolutely brutal to small businesses."

 Campsall wants a coordinated, province-wide effort to improve wood supply and tackle the decline of mills in the area. 

"I know that they [Norbord] have had issues with getting fibre. And how do you run a mill without any guarantee of a product to put through the mill?" said Campsall. 

"We need to be talking to the premier, to the forestry and to the ministry to look at how we can stop this from happening. It's throughout B.C., not just our small communities. It's all of us."  

With files from Jenifer Norwell

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