Tick, tock, tick, tock. The time is almost up for Podunk Pulp and Paper. The moribund paper making plant is due up in court on Monday morning , bidding for yet another sixty days grace to "firm up" the latest financing plan. The proceedings set to take place in BC Supreme Court will feature three neighboring communities, all saying enough is enough. Representatives from Bench, Port Teddy and New Hazel all will be presenting briefs, explaining how they would prefer the liquidators to move in and end the long running soap opera.
Podunk on the other hand has gone it's own way, hiring their own lawyers to provide the viewpoint that hell, another sixty days isn't going to hurt one way or another. Of course these sixty day extensions have almost become a standard business practice for Podunk Pulp and Paper. Every time they supposedly are close to finalizing the details on the financing something bad happens. The dollar rises, the pulp market tumbles, the dog eats the contract, you name it they've used it. And the result is always the same, the plant stays closed and the uncertainty in Podunk festers just a little bit more.
Two years of unpaid property taxes have the other three municipalities ready to move on and get what they can. A reported 18.5 million dollar bid from the liquidator is on the table and the dismantling of the mill a definite possibility. Podunk, which has been badly hit by the closure of the plant is crossing fingers and consulting astrologers in the hope that someone, somewhere, will ride in on a white horse and save the plant and the town.
Podunk of course has the most to lose should Podunk Pulp and Paper disappear, the city is owed 22 million dollars in back taxes and has already spent 14 million of that in an interesting concept of public financing, spending what you don't have, and may not get! Thinking that the plant would eventually be back up and in operation, Podunk went on to spend money as though the cash flow would resume, the past debt repaid and Dorothy would click her heels and we'd all be back in Kansas in no time.
And while the mayor of Podunk offers his moral and civic support to the operators of the mill, there is a split on his own council. Declining to say how many, or name the dissident members at city hall, His Worship went on to state that it's to the community's advantage to not make those names public yet. An interesting approach to democracy and civic governance, but perhaps understandable considering the times.
The entire issue of the state of Podunk Pulp and Paper has been the most divisive issue in the history of Podunk. Many families have been separated by the crisis, as family members move away to find other work, unable to sell their homes as real estate prices tumbled. Many jobs have been lost and the commercial and retail sector decimated.
Public opinion has been split for years over how the file should be handled, a referendum in mid 2003 approved borrowing of funds by the city of Podunk, to help out the struggling operation. Those funds never actually were borrowed, as the proposed deal at that time fell apart. The owner saying he was ready to go make do on his own, over seven months have passed and not much has changed. Since then it's been uncertainty, built upon more uncertainty. Leading us to the Monday morning showdown in Vancouver.
The owners of Podunk Pulp and Paper claim that all of their creditors, with the exception of the rebellious three, are on side with the company. They go on to state that there is a "credible investor" engaged with them at this time, with "serious interest" in starting up the plant. They are asking the courts to grant them an additional sixty days to get their financial ducks in a row.
With one firm bid for liquidation on the books, and a sizeable difference of opinion among the main players, the court will have a tough decision to make. The short term fate of a town called Podunk hangs in the balance.