The province has approved the transfer of Conifex’s forest licence in the Fort St. James area to Fort St. James Forest Products, a subsidiary of Hampton Lumber Mills.
Conifex announced the $39 million sale in June, pending provincial approval. Conifex had suspended operations at its Fort St. James mill, putting more than 200 people out of work and prompting the district to declare a state of financial crisis.
“After a comprehensive review of this public asset, I determined that this transfer is in the public interest and will benefit British Columbians,” said Forest Minister Doug Donaldson in a statement issued Monday. “As a condition of the transfer, Hampton has committed to build a new mill in Fort St. James that will be operational within 36 months of closing the transaction with Conifex. It is my expectation that Hampton will continue to work closely with First Nations to develop business and capacity-building arrangements and hire local workers. In addition, it must meet with the United Steelworkers’ local, and continue discussions with Fort St. James Green Energy and local logging contractors.”
There was concern when the sale was first announced that timber from the old Conifex forest licence would be milled in Burns Lake. Under new provincial regulations, brought in earlier this year, the forest minister has to approve the sale of forest licences.
“Before the Bill 22 changes, government had little say when companies wanted to trade or sell tenure,” said Donaldson. “Now, those companies must be fully engaged with First Nations, workers and local governments before any tenure transfer would be considered. This is one sizeable step in making sure that the people who live near the forests are first in line to benefit from that resource.
The ministry received a considerable response from the citizens of British Columbia, from local governments and from First Nations, he said, adding government also ensured that the transfer was not detrimental to marketing fibre in B.C.
“We’re excited about the tenure transfer approval and will work diligently with Conifex to complete the acquisition process,” said Steve Zika, Hampton Lumber CEO. “After the sale becomes final, we’ll have further information to share with the community regarding our short-term plans for managing the timber license and the mill site. We continue to work with First Nations and the community on long-term plans to develop a community-based sawmill operation that we can all be proud of.”
Closing of the sale is expected to be completed soon, subject to completion of remaining customary closing conditions.
“We would like to thank the minister and the Province of British Columbia for recognizing the positive benefits that the sale and planned rebuild by Hampton Lumber will provide to employees, the community and local First Nations who are dependent on a sustainable lumber manufacturing operation at the site,” said Ken Shields, Conifex’s Chair and CEO.
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