New Brunswick's minister of natural resources and energy development says he has the final say over a disputed wood allocation tied to the now-closed Irving-owned sawmill in Baker Brook.
The sawmill, owned by J.D. Irving Ltd., officially closed Nov. 1, resulting in the loss of 65 jobs in the area.
The company made the announcement in a statement about three weeks prior, saying it plans to consolidate its operations and will try to find placements for the affected employees at some of its other locations across the province.
The mayor of Haut-Madawaska, a rural community of almost 4,000 that includes Baker Brook, has since raised concerns JDI would transfer its wood allocation and remove equipment from the mill, effectively warding off any competition to move in its stead.
"We want to talk to the province to see how we can get started because there are buyers who have come forward who would be interested in buying the sawmill," Mayor Jean-Pierre Ouellet said, speaking in French to Radio-Canada.
"But if there is no allocation and that in addition if Irving moves the equipment that was inside these facilities, it means zero allocation, zero equipment, it means no competitor to Irving."
A potential purchaser would need a wood allowance.
JDI spokesperson Mary Keith said late Thursday the "wood allocation will still be used to sustain much needed jobs" in northern New Brunswick.
Keith said of the 65 employees one opted to retire, one is without work and eight have declined job offers or opted for employment insurance. The remaining 55 have secured jobs, she said.
The emailed statement did not address equipment.
Minister to decide
Minister Mike Holland said Thursday he would evaluate any serious plans to revive the Baker Brook sawmill, noting the question of wood allocation falls to him.
"As the minister responsible, I have allocations, as long as they're actively in use, doing the work we've allocated them for," Holland said. "In the event that the operations ceased to exist, then that returns to the Crown and myself, as that representative, to look at where we go from here with it."
His deputy minister, Tom MacFarlane, was asked about the situation while appearing before the public accounts committee at the New Brunswick legislature on Thursday.
MacFarlane said allocations are essentially tied to two parameters: the facility and the owner.
"If either one of those parameters changes, the access to the allocations reverts back to the minister, as per the act, to re-assign."
He said the allocation isn't tied to a community.
Both minister and deputy minister said they are still gathering information about the situation, and Holland said he is planning to meet with his staff, civic leaders in the area, and JDI.
"We're going to look at the allocation and determine the process for the closing and where we go from there," he said, adding he wants to understand precisely why the company closed the mill.
According to the statement, JDI cited a lack of cedar within a "reasonable distance" of the Baker Brook plant and weak markets for byproducts, such as wood chips, shavings and sawdust, among the reasons to close up shop.
The sawmill, operated by JDI since 2006, produced cedar boards, primarily for fencing.
Ouellet said the closure is also a big loss for the region, representing at least $100,000 a year in property taxes and other taxes.