Mill transition team to plan for the future
Now that the Bowater Mersey plant is closed, team must find ways to keep the local economy afloat
A transition team gathered Monday night to put together a plan for the future of Nova Scotia's South Shore now that the former Bowater Mersey paper mill has been shuttered.
Ron Smith, the business leader heading up the team and a former executive for Aliant and Emera, said it is unlikely anything will replace the prosperity generated by the mill.
"We don't know what realistic is, but we know it will be very hard to replicate the prosperity of thirty years ago," Smith said. "Things are changing here, and not just here, every area of rural Nova Scotia has its own stories and its own challenges."
Other members of the transition team include Andrew Button, executive director of the Lunenburg Queens Regional Development Agency, Kathleen Rafuse, chief administrative officer, Region of Queens Municipality, Barry Tomalin, president of South Queens Chamber of Commerce, and Blair Douglas, former president and owner of N.F. Douglas Lumber Ltd.
"Our objective is to draw out the most practice and fruitful ideas and strategies through which the people of Queens County will ultimately determine their path forward," Smith said in a release.
The transition committee will talk with business, municipal and First Nations representatives and community leaders. The committee will create a plan to help the region now that one of its biggest employers is gone.
The region's economy has been primarily focused on supplying the mill.
Doug Adams, Deputy Mayor for the region of Queens Municipality, said the community needs to find a way to replace the 300 direct jobs that have been lost.
"What they're going to try to do is find some way to get, not only Queens County, but Queens and Lunenburg County, back on even keel because we've lost 320 direct jobs and close to 2,000 indirect jobs and we need something to replace them," Adams said.
Adams said he believes training programs may help former mill workers find new jobs in the community.
"If we could get some input from the government and do a lot of retraining, train people to do jobs which may come available," he said, "but what we'd like to do is to do something with the workforce that we now have so they wouldn't have to just leave us, (to) go west or go to other parts of the Maritimes to find work."
Ron Smith says his committee will examine alternatives.
"We need to look for other things to fill that vacuum too, longer term," Smith said. "Today there are many other businesses that are not directly forestry related that do other things in the region. There can be more of those," Smith said.
On Tuesday union executives will met with local management to discuss pension and severance plans for the former mill workers.
The transition team is expected to report back to the government this fall on ideas it gathers from the community.
NS Power still applying for rate hike
Nova Scotia Power has said the closure of the Bowater Mersey mill will not affect its application for a six per cent rate hike over the next two years, but its not clear what impact the loss of one of its biggest customers will have for ratepayers in the long term.
Nove Scotia Power President Rob Bennett said in a June 5 speech that the closure of paper mills in the province will have an effect on ratepayers but not immediately.
"The biggest factor in these increasing rates is not the reduction of our use of coal. It is in fact the issues that have arisen with the trouble in the pulp and paper industry in the province," Bennett said.
"Suffice it to say that our rate stabilization plan that we've proposed takes the troubles at the mills out of the picture for the time being."
Two years ago, NewPage paid $36 million and Bowater $21 million toward the fixed costs of operating the provincial power grid.
This year NewPage paid nothing and with Bowater closing, the power company won't get the $800,000 the mill was supposed to chip in.
Bennett said recently, the payments made by the mills two years ago are saving ratepayers from a 13 per cent rate hike instead of six per cent hike. He said consumers won't see the effects of the mill troubles on their power bills until 2015.
Consumer Advocate Bill Mahody said ratepayers should not be responsible for making up the entire loss of revenue from the closed pulp and paper mills.
"What we expect a company to do when they do lose a large customer is not just simply to pass on the cost to everyone else but to first make sure that costs are being reduced to the greatest extent possible, before any rate increase associated with this closure would occur," Mahody said.
The Bowater Mersey mill's assets are now up for sale, including 500,000 acres of land.
CBC News has learned that J.D. Irving is not interested in buying the Bowater Mersey sawmill or the land it sits on.