A new committee is investigating the possibility of setting up a community-owned sawmill in Nakusp.
Mayor Tom Zeleznik told the December meeting of Nakusp council he’s been appointed to sit on the exploratory committee.
“[The] price of lumber has doubled in cost recently at the hardware stores, so it’s a good time to invest in our own local value-added forest industry, along with creating local employment,” Zeleznik told council.
“We’re in the very early stages, we are just starting the process of determining ‘if and what’ would make sense here,” explained Hugh Watt, the head of NACFOR’s management team, in an interview. “It is one of our main strategic initiatives going forward.”
But Watt also warns that there are a lot of questions about the concept, and much work has to be done to hammer down the fine details.
Ownership is one of the factors that has to be determined, he says.
“It is conceivable to have a parallel company to NACFOR to own and operate a sawmill/ manufacturing facility, but – there needs to be clear mandate that it is what the community wants to do,” he told the Valley Voice. “Like any idea it needs to be scoped out to see what the possibilities are and which of the possibilities have a local business case.”
While it looks like a good idea now, with political leaders onside, Watt notes forestry is “a very cyclical industry.”
“Things can change fast,” he cautions. “But one benefit of NACFOR is that we have some high- quality wood supply from our own local forests.”
What markets there would be for the sawmill’s products is another question, but Watt says the exploration committee will look into that as well, whether it be direct-to-builder components, timbers, etc.
But Watt says there would be advantages for Nakusp to have NACFOR expand into milling and timber.
“A local sawmill would be another outlet for logs and might have favourable economics for selling logs,” he says. “… and it might help to fulfill social mandate by creating a few jobs, stabilizing the local economy, keeping dollars in the community etc.”
Since there are already sawmills in the area, Watt figures a NACFOR operation would “have to fit into the current industrial ecosystem – be complimentary, not compete with an existing local enterprise.”
While the community-owned forest company has been around more than a decade, Watt says the time wasn’t right before now to start a milling operation.
“Sawmilling was not a specific mandate of NACFOR – we were more concerned with building a viable and strong entity,” he says. “Now that there is some strength, it is possible to look around at other opportunities, especially ones that build on things that we are already doing.”
The committee’s exploratory work is likely to take at least a year to complete. If the numbers are positive, however, it might not take much more time after that to get a sawmill operating.
“It would be great to capture more of the benefits locally that flow from the forest,” he says.
John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice