Burns Lake sawmill to be rebuilt with conditions

The Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake, B.C., will be rebuilt confirms Hampton Affiliates and B.C. Jobs minister, Pat Bell — assuming certain conditions can be met.

The sawmill was destroyed by a devastating explosion and fire in January that killed two workers, and injured 19 others.

The mill was the town's largest employer, and the fire put an estimated 250 people out of work.

Monday morning, Hampton Affiliates said it intends to rebuild the Babine Forest Products mill, "subject to conditions being met." The final decision will be made in December.

According to a Government of B.C. news release, those conditions include adequate timber supply, and if the company is able to work out agreements with the community of Burns Lake and area First Nations.

Hampton Affiliates had said it needed at least 1 million cubic metres of wood annually to justify rebuilding the sawmill, but if it decides to proceed, a new mill could be operating as early as 2014.

Last month, a legislative committee reported there is enough wood surrounding the north-central B.C. town to support restarting the mill.

The company wouldn't disclose how much it would cost to rebuild the sawmill, indicating only that it would be "substantial."

However, Hampton Affiliates CEO Steve Zika confirmed the new sawmill will be smaller.

"The old one had a capacity of 350 million board feet," said Zika. "The new mill will be about two-thirds that size."

The new mill will also employ fewer people, the company revealed.

Zika said because of the smaller size and new technology, the mill will employ about 100-130 workers, down from 200-225, and is expected to reopen in 2014

The official cause of the mill explosion has still not been released by officials, but many experts have pointed to dust levels inside the mill as the likely cause of that explosion and a second one at the Lakeland mill in Prince George in April that also killed two people.

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