Thunder Bay

'Santa Claus is coming to town': Potential buyer for idle mill in Fort Frances, Ontario

People in the Town of Fort Frances could be getting an early Christmas present with news that Repap Resources Group has notified Resolute Forest Products that it wishes to negotiate the purchase of the northwestern Ontario community's shuttered pulp and paper mill.

Resolute Forest Products closed mill in 2014, but committed to heating it and looking for buyers

June Caul, mayor of Fort Frances, Ont., poses beside her campaign sign during the 2018 Ontario municipal election. She says finding a potential buyer for the town's idle pulp and paper mill is 'good news.' (Jeff Walters/CBC)

People in the Town of Fort Frances could be getting an early Christmas present with news that Repap Resources Group has notified Resolute Forest Products that it wishes to negotiate the purchase of the northwestern Ontario community's shuttered pulp and paper mill.

According to a release posted on the town's official Facebook site Thursday, Repap Resources Group, a private investment group with experience in the pulp and paper industries, is partnering with Toronto investment bank, 4Front Capital Partners Inc.

"It feels like Santa Claus is coming to town," Mayor June Caul said. 

Resolute Forest Products closed the mill in 2014, but at the request of the Ontario government committed to heating the empty facility, and has been actively seeking buyers.

'Good news' for families

The deal has been "in the works very quietly for awhile now, and more things were happening in the last week or two and it was sounding more positive," said Caul. "We were expecting to be able to give this good news, and here we are today."

In order to reopen the manufacturing facility, Repap must successfully negotiate with the provincial government to access the fibre currently assigned to the Fort Frances mill from the local Crossroute Forest. During negotiations with another potential buyer in 2016, Resolute identified enough fibre was available to operate the mill. 

In 2014, Resolute Forest Products said it was closing the Fort Frances mill as a result of poor market conditions. In 2018, Repap Resources Group entered into negotiation to buy, and restart the mill. (Supplied)

The town has been working with provincial Conservative cabinet minister Greg Rickford, and Liberal MP Don Rusnak to move the process forward, said Caul.

"We look forward to assisting Repap Resources Group in their bid to purchase the Fort Frances paper mill. Returning 263 new jobs in the Rainy River District is remarkable. It will not only reunite families [but] will also provide long term opportunities for our youth," she stated in the Facebook post, adding that the community thanks the companies for their interest.

'Walking around with smiles on our faces'

Repap plans to produce packaging grades, sometimes called sack kraft papers, at the mill, which, according to the release, it intends to restart in 2019.

"We're feeling very good, we're walking around with smiles on our faces, and hoping it all goes through," said Caul. 

Fort Frances, a border community on the shores of Rainy Lake, about 350 km east of Thunder Bay, was home to an active paper mill from 1914 to 2014. About 20,000 people, one-quarter of whom identify as Indigenous, live in the Rainy River District, the release noted.

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