Stakeholders wait anxiously for news on Central Newfoundland fibre resources

Andrea Gunn
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When Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley announced in early December that the province had narrowed down proposals for fibre resources in the Exploits Valley to one investor, hopes were high.

Stakeholders in the Exploits Valley are anxious for news on utilization of the region's fibre resources.

Grand Falls-Windsor's Abitibi Bowater paper mill produced its last roll of newsprint in February 2009. Hundreds were put out of work and the region lost its cornerstone industry. There's little wonder why, five years later, stakeholders are anxious to know the fate of the region's vast fibre resources.

In early December, Dalley told the Advertiser the provincial government was waiting to examine a business proposal by the selected proponent. He said it would be early in 2014 before an announcement was made.

Now, nearly two months into the year, there has yet to be an announcement from the province, and mayors in the region are wondering when things will start moving forward.

"My understanding is that proposal is for a pellet plant, that's probably as much as I know with regards to that," Grand Falls-Windsor Mayor Al Hawkins said.

"Right now, they're looking at a business plan from that particular company to determine whether they want to move forward with the operation."

In Botwood, Mayor Jerry Dean said he is anxious for news on the expression of interest.

"I have to be quite frank about it, nothing has changed, " Dean said. "Other than limited conversation between the town manager and government officials, there's been no communication on this issue for quite some time."

Dean said several weeks after interim Premier Tom Marshall took the reins from Kathy Dunderdale, he wrote a letter congratulating the new premier.

In the letter, he also mentioned Botwood's priorities, with utilization of fibre resources topping the list. He has not yet received a response.

While he was hoping to hear something early in the New Year, Dean speculated that other pressing issues, such as the closure of the Wabush mine, may be capturing the attention of provincial politicians and causing a delay in movement on other issues.

"We're a compassionate crowd here, right from (council) down to every one of our citizens, so we feel for the people in Wabush on that issue, and we can swallow the government being tied up because of the grave concerns up there," he said. "However, we've gone long enough here in this region on moving ahead on that fibre issue, and if something is not going to happen, let's put it to bed."

While Dean said he would like to have more contact with government on this issue, his main hope now is for good news post-haste.

While Hawkins said he's not privy to specific details about the proposal being considered, if it is a pellet plant, he has some concerns.

"I would really like to see the trees not just taken and just chipped up for pellets. There's lumber or other means you can use the fibre and the byproducts from that then can be used for pellets. I'd like to see some added value to our fibre other than just pellet use," Hawkins said.

"I would suspect that's probably part of the analysis that the province is currently doing."

Hawkins added that at this point, he's just hoping for positive news. He said any use of fibre resources would be a huge benefit to the region.

"We've got potential people working in the woods, harvesters and truckers that are here in Grand Falls-Windsor that would certainly benefit from any sort of operation, cutting the trees, that sort of thing, and a lot of people working in the woods means these truckers and harvesters will be able to use their equipment again," Hawkins said.

"For us, this is a very important piece."

There was no one from the provincial Department of Natural Resources available for statement on this issue as of press time on Tuesday.

Organizations: Department of Natural Resources

Geographic location: Botwood, Wabush, Grand Falls-Windsor

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