Aspen Planers has temporarily restarted a second shift at its Merritt mill through the holidays, thanks to the acquisition of additional fibre supply.
That supply is said to be coming from multiple sources, including the company’s purchase of wood left over in the log yard of the shuttered Canfor sawmill in Vavenby, which closed this past summer.
Aspen also bought some logs from the provincial government at current stumpage rates, which ranges in the Cascades District from between $20 and $50 per cubic metre, dependent on variables including species, condition of timber and distance to market.
Those logs came from wildfire-protection efforts in the Merritt region conducted by the Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resources.
Ravi Kahlon, the provincial government’s parliamentary secretary for forests, lands, natural resource operations, said the acquisition is also good news for the Domtar pulp mill in Kamloops, which buys wood waste from the Merritt mill.
“It’s a nice win-win for both facilities, more so for Merritt, obviously, because they have all the people going back to work,” Kahlon said.
Some 50 employees from the Merritt mill were laid off in June when Aspen Planers moved to a single shift per day production schedule due to an ongoing lack of access to logs, increased log costs and weakening lumber markets.
Marty Gibbons, president of Local 1-417 of the United Steelworkers Union, said it’s not clear how many employees have returned to work.
Union rules ensure employees affected by the layoffs have first crack at their jobs if the company restores a second shift, but Gibbons said some employees have since moved on to other jobs.
“I can confirm that people have gone back to work. I don’t know if the number is 50,” Gibbons said, adding some have returned and there are also a few new hires.
Gibbons said there have been times this year when production has been down completely at the mill.
“These workers have been out of work more than they’ve been at work for the last year- and-a-half,” Gibbons said.
“There have been total shutdowns, there has been reduced shifting. It has just been a mosh pit of all these factors.”
At the time of the June curtailment, an Aspen Planers representative said the company hoped to be able to return to two shifts.
Gibbons said it is his understanding that Aspen is now running one shift in the planer mill and two in the sawmill, but he is unsure of what the new shifting looks like because the union does not know how much more timber has been made available.
When Aspen scaled back in June ,the mill was running one shift in the sawmill and the shift in the planer mill was “off and on,” Gibbons said.
Kahlon said while the timber purchase is a short-term fix for the mill, the province continues to look for more long-term, sustainable solutions for the entire industry.
Asked why stumpage rates couldn’t be reduced — a common factor expressed by companies that have announced closures and curtailments — Kahlon said any major changes to that system could lead to more tariffs from the U.S., which would view that as a subsidy to the industry.
KTW has reached out to representatives from Aspen Planers, who have not returned calls.