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Owners look for new industrial opportunities at B.C. paper mill site

Powell River mill shutting down indefinitely after 109 years
Postcard image of Powell River B.C. from the 1960s, when it was one of the world’s largest newsprint producers. (Wikimedia Commons)

When it opened in 1912, the Powell River pulp and paper mill on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast was the first newsprint producer in Western Canada, and at its peak it supplied paper for one in every 25 newspapers printed world-wide.

Current owners Paper Excellence announced its indefinite curtailment Wednesday, not due to rail and highway access issues like other B.C. mills but as part of a shift to online communication around the world.

“The ongoing contraction of global paper markets and paper prices, particularly in Asia, are creating significant ongoing financial losses at the mill,” Paper Excellence announced Dec. 1. “Despite the best efforts of the mill’s committed team of employees, the facility is simply not viable under the reality of today’s market conditions.”

Paper Excellence said it is working with unions and its 206 employees at Powell River, including offering available jobs at its other paper mills on Vancouver Island, at Crofton and Port Alberni.

Like the rest of the pulp and paper industry, Powell River has upgraded technology to reduce pollution and diversify its products, making specialty papers for magazines, newspaper inserts, catalogues and food packaging. Now the company is looking at other industrial uses for its deep-water port and existing services, including power production and natural gas supply.

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“Paper Excellence is engaged with our governments and potential partners investigating promising new opportunities that would take advantage of the facility’s unique access to deep water, natural gas, electricity, and water supplies, as well as its existing biomass boiler with power generating capacity, wastewater treatment and solid waste disposal infrastructure,” the company said. “It is Paper Excellence’s long-term goal that the site continues to provide meaningful employment and economic activity in Powell River.”

Forests Minister Katrine Conroy said the province will offer retraining and other assistance for the laid-off employees.

“Our government has worked tirelessly with Paper Excellence to keep this operation running and it was our hope that the temporary curtailment announced two weeks ago would have been just that,” Conroy said.


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