Canfor has ended months of speculation and uncertainty, announcing its investment in a state-of-the-art sawmill that produces high-value products to withstand market downturns.
The new mill, expected to cost CA $200 million, will be located on the site of its old mill in Houston, British Columbia, with a capacity of 350 million board feet and will use artificial intelligence (AI).
Wood Central understands that the new mill will produce about two-thirds of what the previous mill produced — and will be flexible enough to produce different wood products based on market demands.
In January, Canfor announced the mill shut down, citing problems with access to raw fibre, and the new facility will be “designed to match mill capacity to available resources.”
At its peak, the facility employed 333 workers.
At the time, Canfor Senior Vice-President of Global Business Development, Susan Yurkovich, admitted that the tough decision was “something we have known was coming for quite some time.”
Spokesperson Michelle Ward said once it’s operational, the facility is expected to employ about 200 people, compared to the roughly 300 who worked at the sawmill it is replacing – with AI to be instrumental in delivering highly agile and globally competitive forest products.
In January, Houston Mayor Shane Brienen, a former labourer at the mill, said, “To put it in perspective, if you’re not from the north, we’re a small community of probably around 3,400 … there’s the work in the mill, but there’s the staff in administration, the people in the bush, then it ripples through the communities into our truck shops can contractors.”
At the time, Ms Yurkovich said the the mill suffered from a 30 million cubic metre drop in allowable cut.
“The annual allowable cut in the interior has dropped from 70 million cubic metres annually to about 50, and it’s going just under 40.”
The new “low cost, high efficiency” facility will take 32 months to construct and will follow detailed engineering, permitting, construction and commissioning.
In announcing the move, Canfor President and CEO Don Kayne said the project represented a significant investment in delivering high-value products for global consumers.
A global leader in manufacturing high-value, low-carbon forest products, Canfor specialises in dimension and speciality lumber, engineered wood products, pulp and paper, wood pellets and green energy.
“This decision follows a comprehensive evaluation of customer requirements and a careful evaluation of the availability of economic fibre in the region to support a successful investment,” Mr Kayne said.
“We believe we have the plan, the people and the know-how to build a best-in-class facility that showcases BC workers, suppliers and technology.”
British Columbia’s Forests Minister Bruce Ralston has welcomed the announcement, acknowledging that whilst the sector is in a “period of transition,” Canfor’s announcement “represents an important step forward” for the province and the industry.