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Town of Roddickton-Bide Arm hosts meeting to discuss future of forestry

Residents of Roddickton-Bide Arm and surrounding communities attended a public meeting Jan 10 to express their concerns around the future of the local sawmill.
Residents of Roddickton-Bide Arm and surrounding communities attended a public meeting Jan 10 to express their concerns around the future of the local sawmill. - Contributed

Townspeople feels it needs to see sawmill up and running

Residents of Roddickton-Bide Arm and the surrounding area are starting to feel the desperation.

They’re still seeking answers for how the town will tie into Active Energy’s plans for the forestry sector on the Great Northern Peninsula.

And now they’re organizing together in the hope they’ll learn something soon.

On Thursday evening, Jan 10, the town hosted a public meeting at the Gerry Byrne Room.

It provided members of the public to opportunity to voice their concerns about the future of the forestry sector in their community and surrounding area (including the municipalities of Main Brook, Englee and Conche).

They have decided to stage a protest in Roddickton-Bide Arm scheduled for Monday, Jan 14.

The meeting comes in the wake of permits being issued in November.

The Department of Fisheries and Land Resources awarded two five-year permits - for each of forestry district 17 and 18 - to Timberlands International Ltd, a subsidiary of Active Energy Group, to cut wood and develop wood pellets.

The pellet plant was announced for Hawke’s Bay and the product will be shipped to markets in Poland.

The permits stipulate that 25 per cent of each permit’s volume will be utilized as sawlogs and made available to the local sawmill industry.

But that has not been no relief to residents of Roddickton-Bide Arm, who have been without an operating sawmill since the Holson Forest Products sawmill and plant closed in 2012.

The forestry sector has been the foundation of Roddickton-Bide Arm’s economy and they want to see the mill in operation once again.

They remain concerned they won’t get their due.

Roddickton-Bide Arm mayor Sheila Fitzgerald says they haven’t heard anything since the agreement was announced, from either the provincial government or the company.

She pointed out that emails in a completed access to information request, shows Richard Spinks, managing director of Timberlands International Ltd, arranging to meet with Burton’s Cove Logging and Lumber Ltd, based in Hampden, off the Great Northern Peninsula, back in November.

The request number for the completed request is FLR/122/2018 under https://atipp-search.gov.nl.ca/

Even if the company was only looking at a small amount of lumber being produced in Hampden, Fitzgerald believes no quantity of lumber from district 17 or 18 should be cut outside of the Great Northern Peninsula.

“You know that the people of the Northern Peninsula wants to benefit from our own fibre,” she told The Northern Pen by phone.

Trevor Fillier, president of the Northern Peninsula Loggers Association and Roddickton-Bide Arm resident, told The Northern Pen local loggers won’t allow sawlogs to leave the Great Northern Peninsula.

“Our demand is we wants our sawmill running,” he said. “If our sawmill don’t run, we’re not cutting no logs for nobody.”

Fillier says forestry contractors have been selling sawlogs to Coates’ Lumber in Main Brook.

But they can only take so much. The rest of the time, they’re left with a stockpile of wood with nowhere to go.

Keon Weir, owner of Weir’s Contractor Ltd, added commentary, telling The Northern Pen, “we’re falling behind.”

In December, Richard Spinks told The Northern Pen that Roddickton-Bide Arm was still a part of the company’s plans.

“Roddickton is perfectly located in the centre of area 18,” he said at the time. “We have had, for more than 18 months, we’ve had a plan … that they would cut their permits and our permits, and we would contract them to do so in our permit area. And all of us must have a home for our sawlogs.”

It’s not economical to truck the sawlogs from Area 18 to sawmills off the Northern Peninsula, said Spinks.

He told The Northern Pen that Active Energy was working with the company to bring the sawmill back to life.

The Northern Pen has contacted Spinks for an update and is awaiting a response.

A ripple effect for businesses

The lack of industry in towns like Roddickton-Bide Arm has a ripple effect through the community and area.

For business owners such as Perry Fillier and Michelle Lidstone, having industry in the town matters.

They were among those at public meeting in Roddickton-Bide Arm on Thursday night, Jan. 9.

In Februay, 2015, the roof on the local Foodland, owned by Fillier, collapsed.

Since then, Fillier has been trying to get a loan to fix the building to get back in operation.

He says if there’s no industry it may be more more difficult to get that loan for his business.

“We’re still hoping but if industry don’t come to town, it’s going to deter anyone from investing,” he told The Northern Pen. “It’s going to make it easier if something happens but right now everything is still up in the air.”

Lidstone operates the Irving in Roddickton-Bide Arm.

She is preaching a message of solidarity between the residents of the region, to fight to get the sawmill up and running with no wood leaving the Great Northern Peninsula.

She says it’s so important to her that she will shut down her business to let her employees attend a protest in Roddickton-Bide Arm on Monday, Jan 14.

“While I can’t make everybody go, I will give them the opportunity if they want to support this demonstration, I will shut this business down and I will pay them to go and stand up and demonstrate,” she said.

Family life

Jocelyn Reid is one of many women in Roddickton-Bide Arm who hold the fort at home while their husbands travelling away for work.

Her husband, Francis, has been commuting to Alberta for the past 11 years. He is often gone for several months at a time. That leaves Jocelyn, who works part-time, with all the chores, including ones he would handle, such as bringing in wood for the stove, cleaning out the furnace or shovelling snow.

“I try to do most of it myself, whatever I can physically do, I will do,” she told The Northern Pen.

Jocelyn says even though it’s tough being away from her husband, it’s a sacrifice they have to make because there’s no longer any work for him at home.

“This is our home, we don’t want to move out of our home,” she said. “We want to do what we can to stay in this lifestyle we’ve been given.”

Prior to finding work in Alberta, Francis was employed at the sawmill in Roddickton-Bide Arm.

That closed in 2012.

When Jocelyn heard that Active Energy had expressed interest in processing wood pellets on the Great Northern Peninsula, using a pellet plant and sawmill, she had hopes it might be an opportunity for her husband to get a job locally and stay home year-round.

She was disappointed to hear the pellet plant would not be in the Roddickton-Bide Arm area. However, she still hopes the sawmill could be operational again in their hometown.

“To have him stay home, I can’t even begin to tell you how much that would be worth,” she said.

stephen.roberts@northernpen.ca

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