As the Neucel Specialty Cellulose Mill’s shutdown continues on with no clear resolution in sight, North Island MLA Claire Trevena has taken the matter into her own hands by writing a letter to the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Minister Responsible for Labour Steve Thomson, regarding the dire effects the shutdown is having on North Island communities.
“I would like to raise with you serious concerns about the Neucel Specialty Cellulose Mill in Port Alice,” wrote Trevena. “As you are no doubt aware, the mill has been closed for more than a year. Initially workers were told there would be a six-month curtailment. Three months later that extended by another five months and by the end of the year the shutdown was for an indeterminate period. The owners, the Fulida group, have now given notice that it is unlikely to restart this year. They have also said shareholders are committed to the mill and do intend to restart when the market improves and ‘other conditions are suitable’.
The mill in Port Alice has been an essential part of the North Island economy, generating millions of dollars for the province through its operations. Little more than 10 years ago it was rescued from closure by the hard work of the local union and the dogged fighting by the community.”
Trevena writes that unfortunately “the uncertainty in Port Alice and around the North Island is perhaps worse than when the mill was closed. People do not know what is happening; their employment insurance has run out and with homes and families – and the possibility of the mill reopening – do not want to leave. Many others have however left BC to find work, no longer available in the province. The Unifor local 514 has been very active. They have been trying to find out from management what the long-term plans are but so far have been unsuccessful.
“They have met with Minister Thomson to talk about fibre supply. They are asking the management about necessary mechanical and operational repairs which will need to be done ahead of any attempts to reopen the mill. But now they are fighting frustration in trying to deal with a management based overseas that may not understand BC’s employment scenario.”
Trevena added that she would very much like to discuss “what can be done to ensure this once vibrant mill can become operational again. I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.”
The letter “is pretty black and white, Claire is standing up for us” said Port Alice Mayor Jan Allen. Minister Shirley Bond responded back with a letter of her own on June 3, stating that “The situation at Neucel is very difficult for both impacted workers and the community as a whole,” adding that the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Minister Responsible for Labour (JTSTL) “has been and continues to work closely with Port Alice, Neucel, the Union and others since the initial layoff announcement in February, 2015. Through our community transition response, we have coordinated and facilitated interventions and supports for impacted workers including several program/service information sessions in the community. Funding ($150,000) was provided to North Island College by the Ministry of Advanced Education, which enabled training opportunities for impacted workers in the areas of Marine Resource, Coastal Forest Resource and Building Service Worker training.”
Minister Bond’s letter went further in depth regarding the JTSTL’s support for the mill and its workers, mentioning that “JTSTL provided $30,000 (matched by $30,000 from Island Coastal Economic Trust) to assist the community and the North Island region with economic development planning. A Port Alice economic development plan has been completed and a North Island stakeholders forum was held in March to identify regional opportunities of which tourism was identified as a priority. We also continue to help to ensure service supports are meeting demands in the community. Recently, JTSTL also provided funding to North Island College to deliver a Targeted Initiative for Older Workers program in Port Alice, which began on May 9. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, as well as BC Hydro, have also been working closely with Neucel and parent company Fulida, regarding fibre supply and hydro issues. We understand these discussions are ongoing. I appreciate that the uncertainty makes it very challenging for local workers to make decisions about their future.”
Minister Bond concluded her letter by assuring that they will “continue to work closely with the community and the company to explore opportunities, as a resumption of operations is certainly in everyone’s best interest,” adding that “I am happy to meet with you to discuss the situation further and would be interested in any specific suggestions you may have.”
The matter “is something to continue to press on,” said Trevena in a brief interview at Port McNeill’s Logger Sports event, adding that it’s “not right to have the whole North wondering what’s going to happen to Neucel,” and that she wants the Minister to “work with myself to find out what is happening and to plan for the future of the community.”
As of this writing, there is still no meeting set up between Trevena and the Minister.