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Fibre supply needed to keep Kamloops pulp mill going

Kamloops council has agreed to send a letter of support to the provincial government
The Kruger pulp mill on Mission Flats Road employs about 340 people. It has 17 days’ worth of fibre right now, but usually has a 30-day supply at this time of year. The reason for the shorter supply is the continued curtailments of sawmills, from which the mill gets about 40 per cent of its product. The pulp mill uses softwood fibre from third-party sawmills in the region to produce high-quality Northern bleached softwood kraft pulp and unbleached softwood kraft for customers from North America, China and Southeast Asia. The mill produces pulp for a range of products, including tissue paper, electrical paper, personal hygiene products and building siding.

If more fibre can’t be sourced, there could in the future be a short-term curtailment of operations at Kamloops’ 10th largest employer.

The Kruger pulp mill on Mission Flats Road is asking city council to keep the operation “front of mind” when interacting with provincial counterparts, to help secure more wood supply.

Representatives from the newly purchased mill appeared before council on Tuesday, Feb. 28, asking for support as a major tax contributor and employer in town.

The mill’s fibre manager, Thomas Hoffman, hopes council can help the mill access enough fibre supply to sustain operations in perpetuity. At the moment, the mill has about 17 days’ worth of wood chip inventory. Typically at this time of year, it would have a 30-day backlog.

“We’re not quite half, but we are close to half of what historically we would have on the pile,” Hoffman said, noting 50 days’ worth is the highest he has seen in his the three years at the mill.

He said no staff have been laid off.

The fibre shortage is due to numerous sawmill curtailments and closures, with those mills supplying the pulp mill with product. The Kamloops mill does not have a forest tenure license to log its own wood, leaving it at the mercy of the market.

“The lumber markets are significantly depressed right now,” Hoffman said, adding the inventory shortage is not due to any attempt to reduce overhead costs.

Given the fibre shortage from sawmills, Kruger is increasing its use of fire-affected wood and slash piles and wants to work with First Nations to access their forest tenures.

Hoffman said the pulp mill has, on average, 10 suppliers, noting all have taken some downtime recently. He said the most recent permanent closure of a supplier was the Canfor sawmill in Vavenby in 2019. A couple of Kruger’s other supplier mills haven’t run in three months, but will be starting up again in March.

A lack of access has resulted in sawmill curtailments, Hoffman said, noting recent provincial government policy changes have made it more difficult to access logs than before. Historically, about 80 per cent of the pulp mill’s fibre came from sawmills, but that has been reduced to between 60 and 70 per cent today.

“What we’ve done is look for non-traditional sources,” Hoffman said. “We’re going to continue to explore those.”

He said there is no imminent risk of the pulp mill closing or curtailing operations, noting the operation has overcome difficult times in the past and he is optimistic it will again persevere.

“There could be a short-term curtailment if there’s a lack of fibre,” Hoffman said, noting Kruger is working with government officials and First Nations to avoid that situation.

Hoffman said Kruger wants city council to speak on its behalf with provincial officials whenever possible, stressing the need for fibre supply.

Council has agreed to send a letter of support to Victoria.

“We’ll continue to work closely with local government officials and First Nations to secure fibre for the long term and we strongly believe by working together, we’ll be in the best position possible top meet the challenges ahead,” Hoffman told KTW.

The Kruger mill employs about 340 people and supports about another 1,000 jobs indirectly. It produces five grades of pulp that are used in a variety of products worldwide, from tissue towels to fibre cement. It also generates about 460,000 megawatt hours of annual green power.

Kruger purchased the pulp mill from Domtar in June 2022. The pulp mill is one of the city’s largest employers. The operation pays about $5 million per year to the city in property taxes. The mill opened on Nov. 30, 1965, under the Kamloops Pulp and Paper Company name. In 1971, Weyerhaeuser bought the mill and operated it under that banner until 2007, when Domtar purchased the operation.