Sunday, November 01, 2009

Podunk Below the Masthead, Friday, October 30, 2009

Eurocan shocks Kitimat with a closure notice, Canpotex's purported email continue to cause anxiety in Prince Rupert and the Highway closes after a rock slide west of Terrace, some of the items of note from Friday.

Daily News, Front page, Headline Story
The shock waves reverberate around the aluminum city, as the city's second largest employer Eurocan announces that as of the end of January the pulp mill in that community will no longer be in operation. Politicians were scrambling to hold emergency meetings to address the issue, which took most members of the community by surprise.

An email that has been suggested comes from the Canpotex offices is making the rounds of the city. Stirring up some raw emotions for those that fear that the proposed potash terminal on Ridley Island may be in peril after local First Nations governments asked for a more thorough review of the environmental aspects of the project.

The Conservatives try to make some media play out of an upcoming vote on the long gun registry and NDP MP for Skeena Bulkley Valley is caught up in the public relations blitz to convince him to vote in favour of eliminating the Long Gun registry. A vote on that initiative comes up in the House of Commons on November 4th and through a variety of media interviews the press is on for his vote, though it would appear that the Conservatives PR campaign is all about the push to get their image and message out and play to their audience, Cullen has already announced he would vote in favour of that private members bill.

The Sports section features Women's hockey and senior boy's high school volleyball as the feature attractions for the Friday edition.

(Daily News Archive Articles for October 30)

Northern View
Highway will open briefly before closing again-- The Northern View offered up the first mainstream local on line media details on the closure of Highway 16 between Terrace and Prince Rupert. (see article here)

Rock Slide Closes Highway West of Terrace -- Details of an early morning rock slide which closed the highway between Terrace and Prince Rupert for most of the day on Friday, the highway eventually reopened to alternating traffic with delays of twenty minutes and occasional closures during the weekend. (see article here)

High Absentee Rate Prompts Closure of Mount Elizabeth Secondary -- Absentee rates of up to 40 percent close the doors to Mount Elizabeth Secondary School in Kitimat (see article here)

Daily News, front page, headline story
Kitimat’s Eurocan closes its doors in three months
By George T. Baker
The Daily News

Friday, October 30, 2009

Locals are now taking time to reflect and understand what this news will mean for the long-term economy of Kitimat.

Kitimat council will be holding an emergency meeting in the next two days to discuss the closure with Eurocan executives. Of equal concern was how it happened so unexpectedly. There was no warning, no news that this was on the table.

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MLA, Nathan Cullen is working with community leaders to organize an emergency strategic planning session in Kitimat the November 7 weekend.

Cullen, an economic and community development consultant before becoming Member of Parliament five years ago, will also facilitate the session.

West Fraser president and chief executive officer Hank Ketcham said closing the mill is “the only reasonable alternative.”

“We deeply regret the impact the mill closure will have on our 535 employees, their families and the community and we will ensure those who are affected are treated with fairness and respect,” Mr. Ketcham stated in a release Wednesday.

No one will have more responsibility in helping citizens figuring out long-term impacts than Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monoghan, whose phone would not stop ringing on Wednesday.

“I feel very, very bad for the employees. I want to give them my greatest sympathy,” said Monoghan. “There is nothing I can even say other than I feel very, very bad.”

Allan Hewiston says he has seen better weeks than this one.

The President of Kitimat Ice Demons and the current president of the Central Interior Hockey League has lived at the end of the Douglas Channel since 1980, and said that Wednesday’s news that the Eurocan pulp and paper mill would close in three months was the worst news the community could have received.

“It’s pretty devastating and very worrying,” said Hewiston.

Hewiston’s team is one of the most successful senior men’s hockey teams in Canada, having won three of the last four Coy Cups – the province’s top prize in senior hockey.

The success on the ice has been duplicated by the success off it with the team developing a loyal fan base that fills Tamitik Arena for each game – most of whom work at the various industrial plants.

Kitimat is a venerable company town – built on the back of the Alcan aluminum smelter plant.

West Fraser said the 40-year-old mill, which produces linerboard and kraft paper, has struggled over the years with high costs and negative returns.

In the past year, West Fraser said prices for the mill’s products have fallen by 40 per cent.

Sawmill curtailments in the region, as a result of a slump in demand for lumber, has reduced the supply of lower-cost wood chips to Eurocan. That has left the mill to rely on more expensive whole log chips, the company said.

Global economic slowdown, the rising loonie and severe competition from low-cost paper producers in other countries were listed as reasons for the drop in prices.

West Fraser said it will take a $138-million charge in the third quarter related to assets at the Kitimat facility.

It also expects to incur costs of about $70-million over the next few quarters related to the shutdown of the facility.

Kitimat’s loss is not new to the Northwest, whose manufacturing economy has largely been tied into the success of the U.S. market. About 75 per cent of Eurocan’s paper production is linerboard, used in cardboard boxes, and about 25 per cent is kraft paper, used in a variety of applications, such as cement packaging.

“It’s a terrible day not just for the people living in Kitimat, but I would argue for all the people in the Northwest,” said Skeena MLA Robin Austin.

Austin was reelected in May largely on a platform that would help his riding, which includes Kitimat and Terrace, reform the economy and try to help workers either find future employment in the Forestry industry or transfer into another field.

According to BC Statistics, 15 per cent of all jobs were associated with the manufacturing industry in 2006, making it the biggest industry in the ridings.

“With a big company like that, it isn’t just the 500 jobs in Kitimat. It’s all kinds of suppliers and truckers that are tied to it. It’s probably 1,000 jobs, really,” explained Austin.

The Northwest is truly linked together, where for better or worse Terrace has become the retail axis for the region, attracting customers from Prince Rupert and Kitimat. Business owners there are almost as dismayed as the business owners in Kitimat are.

Garry McCarthy is the owner of MacCarthy Motors car dealership in Terrace. He said that about 30 to 35 per cent of his business relies on Kitimat purchasers.

“Terrace is the hub for the area. And there are good people who have lost good jobs this week,” lamented MacCarthy, who has lived in the area for at least 28 years.

Some people have quickly recognized that it is necessary to look beyond the problem toward the solution. The issue of what’s next is already being discussed.

Zeno Krekic, Prince Rupert’s city planner, is a long-time resident of Kitimat who has split his life between both communities since becoming the City’s planner in 2008. He will be meeting with regional city planners this weekend in Terrace to discuss the future of the region. And while Kitimat’s recent troubles were not originally on the agenda, he believed it now could be, if even informally.

“We need to be putting our heads together so that we can stabilize the economy,” said Krekic. “The question we must be answering is ‘How do we get out of the resource-based economies?’.”

MacCarthy was also hopeful that an answer to that question is not far off.

“You have to be very resilient to live [in the B.C. Northwest]. But we are truly lucky to live here. It still and will always be one of the premium places on earth to live.”

In a press release, Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen said he felt confident Kitimat will rebound from the Eurocan crisis.

West Fraser’s announcement that it is permanently shutting down its Eurocan operation in Kitimat is undeniably devastating news but both the community and region will weather this latest economic storm, he said.

“I’ve spoken with workers and community leaders several times since the announcement, and will continue to do so as we come to terms with this new reality and begin to make a plan for the future.”

Cullen acknowledged the depth of fear and uncertainty the January 2010 mill closure will have on families, businesses and northwest communities.

“You can’t suddenly have 535 direct jobs and thousands more indirect jobs ripped out from under you and not be absolutely reeling.”

He said he is fiercely proud of the resilience the Northwest has shown over the last 10 years of economic slowdown. He said he has “absolute confidence” the compassion and determination of the entire region will be out in full force again as Northwest residents come to terms with the Eurocan crisis.

Eurocan has operated in Kitimat economy for 40 years and was purchased by West Fraser in 1981.

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