Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Coal in Dan Veniez’s stocking well past Christmas

The Daily News has what may be the first interview with Dan Veniez since the controversial industrialist was named chair of Ridley Terminals.

Veniez has almost become mythical over the years, thanks to his efforts in the early part of this century to, restructure and resuscitate the Watson Island Pulp Mill. It was an effort that eventually was abandoned due to a lack of financing leaving the mill in bankruptcy and the local economy in a tailspin, twin events that also coincided with a split of the town down any number of directions, like no other issue has in the past.

Veniez reflects back on that era in the article, proclaiming that “thoughtful people” will understand that New Skeena and it’s parent company NWBC “came damn close to getting the mill up and running”, perhaps a statement that not all will agree with.

He returns to the northwest thanks to an appointment from the Conservative Government which named him the Chairman and President of the terminal in a flurry of patronage appointments a few weeks ago.

Veniez in the article, says that he had to think twice before taking the position, and only did so once he was assured that the government had no plans to revive its plans to sell off the Terminal, a still common concern around the community.

His return will certainly prove to be another interesting twist for the Northcoast, and we’re pretty sure that there will be plenty to keep an eye and ear out for once he’s back in the saddle in town.

The Daily News featured the new CEO’s thoughts as part of their front page in Wednesday’s paper.

A controversial figure such as Veniez of course will find more than a few detractors come along the way, thoughtful in their thoughts as well. One of which forwarded his thoughts to the Daily News in a letter to the editor, which we provide following the front page story below.

Former Skeena CEO returning to North Coast at helm of another big player
By Leanne Ritchie
The Daily News
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Pages one and three

Dan Veniez admits he had to think twice before agreeing to return to the Northwest.

The former CEO of New Skeena Forest Products, who led a widely publicized attempt to restructure and restart Skeena forestry operations between 2003 and 2005, said he has been busy with new projects since the company declared bankruptcy in 2005.

But the thought of working with a key piece of Canada’s national port infrastructure is what lured him back to the region as the new chair of the board of Ridley Terminals.

“I was asked an initial reaction was ‘No, I’m busy, I am doing a lot of other stuff,” said Veniez.

“And then I was asked again. It’s been a strategic asset for the country and it has been orphaned really, the last three years without a Chairman and CEO and the previous three, it was caught in a bit of a quagmire as far as the future of the place as far as the government of Canada ownership of it.”

In 2005, the Canadian government, then headed by the Liberals, was proposing to sell the terminal to a private company.

Ridley had been losing money for several years following the closure of the last coal mines in the Northwest.

However, industry protested, arguing mining in Northwester B. C. is on the rebound and saying that selling the terminal would create a monopoly on the bulk exports.

And Mike Tarr, former chair of the board of Ridley Terminals and current chair of the Northern Savings Credit Union, argued the terminal was on an economic rebound after successfully diversifying its product line from coal to wood pellets and potential sulphur shipments in the future.

The sale became a dominant election issue in the winter of 2005 and one of the first things the Conservative government did after being elected in early 2006 was to cancel the sale.

After being assured that the government had no intention of reviving any attempts to sell it, Veniez agreed to fill the role of board chair, a role that has been vacant since Tarr left two years ago.

“It’s an important asset in Canada and the government of Canada feels it’s a critical link in a broader gateway strategy.

I’ve been pretty heavily involved in other important parts of the economy in the last several years and I can tell you, the economic pull coming out of Asia is as strong as anyone has ever seen it and Ridley could and should be diversifying it product mix and its supplier mix to really take advantage of that asset,” said Veniez.

“It’s been functioning under-capacity for years and in part that’s a function of the general state of the global economy and in part its other things too. I will help Greg Slocombe, Chief Financial Officer,) and the team put this on the map from a business perspective and make sure Ridley’s interests are at the top of mind in Ottawa.”

Veniez acknowledges there are people in the Northwest who do not like the way he handled the efforts to restructure new Skeena, however those who are thoughtful and those he respects understand that he, and George Petty, president of New Skeena’s parent company NWBC Timber and Pulp, put every effort in to making it work, he said.

“The view from thoughtful people is that if we couldn’t get it up and running again, no one could. That’s exactly what happened. We came damn close and thoughtful people know it,” said Veniez.

“We were always very, very straight with people and in business that means a lot.”

Since New Skeena Forest Products declared bankruptcy in 2005, the company was sold in pieces – The Terrace sawmill was bought and restarted by a group of Terrace businessmen and has since gone belly up; the Watson Island Pulp mill is in the hands of Sun Wave Forest Products, a Chinese government-owned company, however there is no indication of a restart any time soon because Watson Island property is being leased for use by several businesses, including the new Container Examination Facility for the Fairview Container Terminal; and the forest licences have been sold to local First Nations, with the largest assets in the hands of the Lax Kw’alaams and Gitxsan.

Shortly after the bankruptcy of new Skeena, George Petty, a man known for more than three decades of work rebuilding mills across Canada, died from complications arising from kidney transplant surgery.

The 72 year old passed away peacefully in Key West, Florida.

Since then, Veniez has been working as a partner for the Centre for Executive Development, is chairman of DDV Enterprises Ltd., an investment company, and is an operating advisor to Pegasus Capital Advisors, a private equity group that manages more than $1.8 billion (U. S) in assets through several funds.

He will be meeting in the near future with the terminal’s management team and said he is looking forward to working with them.

The Prince Rupert Daily News
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Page 4

To the editor,

Unfreakin’ believable!

After the fiasco that Mr. Dan Veniez dragged this community through during his “alleged” attempt to make the pulp mill a viable operation again, the federal government, in particular the Honourable Mr. Lawrence Cannon, has appointed Mr.Veniez as chairperson of the Ridley Terminals Inc. board of directors.

One wonders if the government checked (or even cared) about history in this community.

In any case, this is, in effect, a slap in the face to this community in general, and all those families in particular who suffered during his previous involvement in our community.

If I sound pissed off, I am.

Yours Truly,
Jim Trerise

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