Western Forest Products (WFP) was in the hot seat at the Regional District of Mount Waddington’s (RDMW) board meeting, where they faced a multitude of criticisms and questions from the board directors over the closure of the Englewood Train.
“I won’t lie to you, I am really unhappy with this decision,” said Port McNeill Mayor Shirley Ackland. “The impact that this is having on the communities of the North Island is absolutely tragic and you are at the heart of that.”
WFP announced the closure of its Englewood logging train on Nov. 7, which was headquartered in Woss, in favour of truck transportation. The company stated that of the 34 positions, the number of employees impacted is likely fewer than 15.
Delegates from WFP attended the RDMW board meeting on Nov. 21 as part of their annual meeting with the board, which began with a presentation on their business operations in the North Island before they addressed concerns from the board.
“We are looking at cost competitiveness as a key driver of our business and improving efficiencies,” said Vice President and Chief Forester for Western, Shannon Janzen, during her initial presentation.
WFP also noted they are downsizing the number of log sorts across the company (125 log sorts to 30 log sorts), and they are also reducing fat trucks (off-highway trucks) from the North Island in favour of highway trucks, before finally addressing comments regarding the closure of the Englewood train.
Randy Boas, Operations Manager for Englewood, said once they finish working with the employees and union to transition the workers to other positions, WFP will determine what is the best way to honour the train’s 100 year legacy. The company is also currently developing a road safety plan to mitigate the impact of the increase of logging trucks using the highway.
“Safety is always our first priority,” said Clint Cadwallader, Regional Manager for WFP for the North Island. “I know it’s a change and there is an emotional attachment to the train, but it is really the standard and it can be done safely.”
WFP said its road safety plan includes extensive training for truck drivers, driver safety protocols, additional pullouts on the highway as part of protocols to pull over, GPS monitoring and tracking, dash cams, and ID placards to identify Western trucks as separate from other truck traffic.
Road safety was a concern voiced by many of the board directors.
“I can’t imagine what you could put in place that is going to mitigate the safety dangers of having that amount of logging traffic on our roads,” said Ackland, stating she counted 27 logging trucks on a trip from Nimpkish Heights to Woss.
Dave Rushton, the board representative for Woss, said he’s noticed the ruts in the highway from the heavy logging traffic. “The road from Woss to Port McNeill, and I travel it all the time, those ruts were never there a year ago – nothing like they are now,” he said.
“There’s not too many people in this room that have more relatives or family on the North Island than me, who travel that road more than me, and are passionate about safety,” said Cadwallader, adding, “ I’m responsible for it and I give you my word that I will put it first.”
Concerns were also raised about log sort consolidation and further job loss, with Port Alice Mayor Jan Allen stating she knows of eight logging jobs that were lost in Port Alice.
Cadwallader also confirmed there was a number of positions impacted by the consolidation.
“What I think everyone is skirting around here is the corporate culture of Western Forest Products and the amount that they actually support the communities and the amount that their bottom line is a priority at all times,” said Port Hardy Mayor Hank Bood.
“I understand being competitive,” said Ackland, adding, “but I also understand it’s people that run your companies, and what is happening to the people is they are losing trust – don’t lose the trust of the communities from the North Island, because that is serious.”
Ackland said she has requested a discussion on these issues with both the Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of Forests.
Janzen acknowledged she knew it was going to be a tough conversation.
“We are here because we want to have people working in the North Island, and we want to have sustainable communities,” said Janzen, adding, “without communities on the North Island, we don’t have workers – we understand that, but it’s the sustainable jobs that we need in the long term to get people in the right places as we go forward.”
Western agreed to attend the RDMW’s meeting in January to seek input for a public engagement session on how to honour the legacy of the Englewood train.