Blackville mill closure puts 60 out of work

The Blackville Lumber sawmill has closed indefinitely, throwing 60 people out of work, and the company that owns the mill says the government could help determine whether it reopens.

Finnish paper giant UPM owns the mill in Blackville. Mayor Glen Hollowood says most residents make a living off of the surrounding woodland.

The last shifts at the sawmill in Blackville were Friday. When UPM gave workers two weeks’ notice that it was shutting down the sawmill, Hollowood says many in the community didn’t know what to think.

“There’s been a sawmill in Blackville forever,” he said. “The people here depend on that mill, all the businesses and everything. It’s kind of devastating to the community when something like this happens.”

A number of factors went into the decision to close the mill, said UPM woodlands director Paul Orser. The market for the wood the mill processes has dropped more than 30 per cent since last year, he said.

Almost all the wood from the mill goes to U.S. buyers, where the housing market is weakening.

And the Blackville mill is inefficient and needs to be upgraded, Orser said.

Orser says the amount of wood the province allows UPM to cut is shrinking, making it tough to improve the mill. The mill’s problems could be solved if there were more wood open for cutting in the Miramichi area.

“Wood in the province is very tight. Since 1982, mills in the Acadian-Miramichi cluster have lost in the order of half a million metres of wood, whereas the rest of the province has basically seen their allocations level stay the same,” Orser said.

“Wood’s our currency and we’re hoping that in the next round of re-allocation that some of it might come back to the area so we can find some investors to improve mills like Blackville.”

Department of Natural Resources spokesman Brent Roy said Monday allocations are made every five years and were recently completed for 2007-2012, with no reductions in the annual allowable cut for the Miramichi area.

On top of his job as mayor, Hollowood has worked at the sawmill for 27 years himself. He says most of the mill workers will begin filing for employment insurance today.

“It’s the only industry we have in this community,” Hollowood said. “It’s the biggest one.… It’ll be hard on the village, like the hardware store here, and stuff like that. People don’t buy anything, you know, they’re kind of scared. [If] they’re not sure what they’re going do the next day, they don’t buy very much. So it does hurt the whole village.”

Orser said that UPM’s Bathurst mill, employing about 90 people in northern New Brunswick, will stay open for now.

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