Locals hope Prince Albert pulp mill will reopen in 2020

People in Prince Albert are still hoping their pulp mill will reopen.

Paper Excellence says changes in market conditions could derail plans for opening

People in Prince Albert are still hoping their pulp mill will reopen.

Ten years ago, Weyerhaeuser closed the Prince Albert Pulp and Paper Mill, costing 700 people their jobs. In 2011, current owner Paper Excellence stepped in and bought the plant, proposing to reopen the pulp side of the mill, while shuttering the paper facility.

In a speech to the Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce this week, Paper Excellence reiterated its plans to reopen the mill by 2020. However, that will only happen if market conditions are favourable.

"Will the business conditions in 2020 be the same as they are now?" said David Kerr, vice-president operations of Paper Excellence Canada. "Right now, the business conditions are that the mill, along with an electrical solution together, can generate a positive return for Paper Excellence. So, we would restart the mill based on our understanding of business conditions."

If the mill does restart, Paper Excellence would hire between 240 and 250 employees.

"That's significantly less than when the mill shut down, but you have to remember there was a papermaking operation," said Kerr.

Demolition of the old paper making facilities is expected to start this year.

Totally devastating

Meanwhile, people in Prince Albert say it would be a huge blow if the mill doesn't reopen.

"It would be a disaster for us," said Deputy Mayor Don Cody. "We are in negotiations presently with taxes, which is a confidential thing, but it would be devastating if it totally closed and was torn down."

Cody is concerned that price increases, including a proposed ten percent increase in SaskPower rates by next year, could derail the project.

"That is simply not in the cards when you're trying to open a new business," said Cody. "When business come to the city, they ask for tax breaks. They come to the province and ask for tax breaks. Well, the crowns have to also give them a break."

Meanwhile, there are still more than 150 union members on a recall list, waiting to see if the mill will ever reopen.

"They're holding up okay," said Unifor assistant to the president Scott Doherty. "They'd like to see more action around some of the work that needs to take place to restart the mill."

However, the union isn't confident that the mill will restart.

"I think the markets have changed considerably," said Doherty. "The product that they're allowed to make is not really conducive to running the mill at this point in time."

With files from Anouk Lebel