Allen: Port Alice will survive

PORT ALICE — Neucel pulp mill to shut down for six months; 400 layoffs expected

The Neucel Specialty Cellulose pulp mill in Port Alice is ceasing production for six months this week putting about 400 people out of work, but the village will soldier on.

“All shutdowns are hard on the people that live here. It’s hard on everybody in Port Alice,” said Mayor Val Allen.

“Have we been through this before? Yes we have.

“It doesn’t make it any easier, but we have seen it before. It’s not anything that we can’t get past. We will survive,” Allen said.

“We have 340 members that work at the mill,” said Unifor Local 514 President Don Vye, and there are about 400 employees at the plant in total.

Neucel employees had just gone back to work last month.

“There was a curtailment in November and December of last year,” said Vye.

“Jan. 5 we went back and did some preliminary maintenance. The mill started up approximately the 17th of January,” he said.

The closure will have an impact not only on Neucel employees, but on business people who rely on their patronage, not only in the Village of Port Alice, but the Tri Port area and the North Island as a whole.

“It changes the situation in a small community such as this, because if the people are not getting regular pay cheques” their spending is curtailed, said Vye.

“It certainly causes a lot of concern with people in Port Alice, Port Hardy all over the North Island and even down island where some of the employees are from,” he said.

There will be some people still at work at the plant.

“There are some necessary people while the mill is shut down,” Vye said, for safety, to monitor the plant for environmental purposes, and to keep a watchful eye on equipment.

Low market prices for dissolving pulp is being given as the reason for the closure in a notice to employees obtained by the Gazette.

“Since 2012, the global dissolving pulp market has undergone significant changes.

“The market price continues to slide and the market is still sluggish.

“The board of directors have evaluated various options and come to the decision that in order to ensure the long-term viability of the mill, Neucel will take a six-month production curtailment starting approximately Feb. 21. During the curtailment, the company will investigate alternative operating strategies for the future of Neucel,” wrote Wanli Zhao, Neucel chief executive officer.

“There are no other specialty cellulose mills in British Columbia,” said Vye.

The union, said Vye is “doing everything we can to find out all the necessary information and everything we can to get people back to work at the mill as soon as possible.”