Turbo in silva

Andy Barker
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April 15 marks the 100 anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and questions about that marine disaster are still ongoing. Meanwhile, yesterday, March 28 marked the third year of the mill going under and questions about that industrial disaster are wont to prompt "Stop living in the past. It's over, move on!"

Politicians would surely love us to move on without questioning why an AbitibiBowater mill (two old machines like No. 7 here) in Nova Scotia, with no power plant of its own and significantly smaller forestry holdings, has survived. And this one died!

Did the Premier in power matter? A smug Danny Williams was glad to see the back of their heads, whereas Premier Dexter worked out a $50 million deal (25 loan, 23.7 land purchase, 1.5 grant) with AbitibiBowater.(Chronicle Herald Jan 6)

Dexter's "I can't imagine what would happen to the economy of this region and indeed to the entire province if this mill was to close permanently" could have been a different tune if Dexter had billions in oil money coming his way and could see hydro power facilities and vast forestry holdings within his grasp.

In 2008, AbitibiBowater was like a cornered rat with its very survival threatened due to worthless shares, product oversupply and a $5.9 billion debt load. The rat's way out from a seemingly doomed end was to seek bankruptcy protection and leave a long list of creditors - including local ones - holding the bag.

Miraculously, AbitibiBowater, now Resolute Forest Products, has survived. The nearly 700 who lost their jobs here weren't so lucky, but the 10,000 still employed by Resolute must be elated. And so are pensioners here getting their same monthly cheque!

In last fall's election, Liberal leader Kevin Alyward said the Tories should have gone into negotiations with AbitibiBowater as in other provinces. Premier Dunderdale stated that Alyward was out of touch about what was happening in the industry. Does that mean Premier Dexter of Nova Scotia is a few sticks short of cord for working out a deal with AbitibiBowater?

Out of touch is Premier Dunderdale who sees no provincial obligation to pay the grant in lieu of taxes. Joined at her hip are Minister Sullivan, MHA Ray Hunter and our council for not getting that grant restored or insisting Nalcor pay taxes on the power generated at the Grand Falls. That power, as noted by Hydro officials (Telegram Jul 2, 2011), has "significantly reduced the amount of oil-fired power required from the Holyrood plant."

Meanwhile, a proposed 30 megawatts wind farm at Eastern Kings PEI would pay that council $600,000 yearly. That PEI deal should make the 75 megawatts here worth at least $1.5 million for our town coffers, thus making any money generated in the town by hosting the senior hockey playoffs look like small potatoes!

AbitibiBowater didn't leave here empty handed. It was paid the

bargain basement price of $130 million by feds (to avoid a free trade racket) in compensation for the province's expropriation of its hydro and forest assets.

And the province (even paying severance benefits and a possible clean up bill) is doing handsomely, financially, with ownership of the power resources and massive forest holdings.

So, who were real losers besides the feds and local businesses with unpaid bills? The front lines losers for sure have to be the union and non-union workers who had to move to find work, commute, or accept lesser paying jobs. And family stress from those work situations must be still taking its toll.

More local losers include taxis, cleaners and suppliers of stationary, tires, tools, food, safety supplies and whatnot who must surely miss that steady income from AbitibiBowater.

Definitely lost is the local hands-on management that took good care of woods roads and bridges. As well, lost forever is the corporate hosting of events at logging camps and Grand Falls House and the support, in cash and kind, for such things as the hospital foundation, sporting events, music and drama festivals and a big hurrah like the 2005 Centennial Celebrations.

Certainly lost is the 100 years of professionalism, skills and expertise in the newsprint industry - from the stump to the sea - that made the region a golden jewel in the provincial crown.

Kruger's recent lay offs in Corner Brook had economics professor Gabriela Sabau at Grenfell Campus say "I would love to see some manufacturing being done in this place because that is what makes an economy really healthy." (Telegram Feb. 4)

Ditto for here.

Big name concerts and fancy bricks are mere window dressing - momentary highs and not the nucleus of a sustainable healthy, economy as envisioned by the Grenfell professor.

The town has a new logo and notably absent is the stirring motto, "E silva surrexi" (I arose from the forest). Would the motto be a constant reminder of our rich industrial heritage - a place settled, carved out of the wilderness due to the abundance of the two prized renewable, natural resources - hydro power and black spruce?

The town as of late is marketing itself as "Perfectly Centered." Perfectly true. However, until our phenomenal natural resources are once again - the central core of our local economy - then a new motto should hang over the town.

Turbo in silva - Unsettled in the forest!

Andy Barker at abdp9@hotmail.com

Organizations: AbitibiBowater, Grand Falls House

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Grand Falls, Holyrood Corner Brook

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