Eco­nomic his­tory re­peats it­self in Strait area

Now idle pulp mill was a re­sponse to job losses 50 years ago

Cape Breton Post - - REFLECTION­S - BY NANCY KING nk­[email protected]­post.com

The pulp and pa­per in­dus­try came to the Strait area in re­sponse to an eco­nomic cri­sis, and the cur­rent un­cer­tain fu­ture of the Point Tup­per pa­per mill could po­ten­tially re­sult in sim­i­lar sig­nif­i­cant change in the area’s econ­omy.

The economies of all of the com­mu­ni­ties in the greater Strait of Canso area largely rely, di­rectly or in­di­rectly, on the mill, which has had op­er­a­tions of one form or an­other in Point Tup­per since 1962.

While the con­struc­tion of the Canso Cause­way, com­pleted in 1955, meant safe, re­li­able and eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble trans­porta­tion be­tween Cape Bre­ton Is­land and main­land Nova Sco­tia, it also re­sulted in the loss of the ferry ser­vice that crossed the Strait of Canso and lo­cal Cana­dian National Rail­way op­er­a­tions, which dev­as­tated the area’s econ­omy, throw­ing hundreds of peo­ple out of work.

In re­sponse, the Four Coun­ties De­vel­op­ment As­so­ci­a­tion with rep­re­sen­ta­tion from Inverness, Rich­mond, Antigonish and Guys­bor­ough coun­ties was formed. They worked to at­tract in­dus­try to the area that could take ad­van­tage of the deep ice-free har­bour that was formed by the con­struc­tion of the cause­way.

In 1956, the Swedish pa­per­maker Stora Kop­par­berg was in­vited by the prov­ince to look at po­ten­tially set­ting up a pulp mill in east­ern Nova Sco­tia. The Four Coun­ties De­vel­op­ment As­so­ci­a­tion re­sponded by pro­vid­ing the com­pany in­for­ma­tion about the Strait area, in­clud­ing the avail­abil­ity of wood and large quan­ti­ties of water.

Nova Sco­tia Pulp Ltd. was in­cor­po­rated in 1957, and con­struc­tion of the mill be­gan in Point Tup­per in Novem­ber 1959. It was com­pleted in De­cem­ber 1961, cost­ing more than $40 mil­lion. Stora was also given leases to 520,000 hectares of Crown land for a pe­riod of 50 years. It was later given ac­cess to additional Crown land and cur­rently holds leases for 600,000 hectares in the prov­ince’s seven east­ern coun­ties.

The mill’s of­fi­cial open­ing took place Jan. 2, 1962, and it be­gan op­er­at­ing in Fe­bru­ary 1962 pro­duc­ing 100,000 tonnes a year of bleached sul­phite mar­ket pulp. It em­ployed 400 peo­ple di­rectly and sup­ported more than 800 wood truck­ing and har­vest­ing jobs. It was the largest mar­ket pulp mill in North Amer­ica.

In 1969 an ex­pan­sion of the pulp mill was an­nounced, along with con­struc­tion of a new newsprint line.

In 1972, the com­pany started up a 149,000 tonne per year newsprint line and the pulp mill be­gan pro­duc­ing 161,000 tonnes a year. The de­vel­op­ments brought 150 new mill jobs and 875 new po­si­tions in the har­vest­ing and truck­ing of wood.

From 1975 to 1981, the spruce bud­worm dev­as­tated many of the soft­wood stands in the Cape Bre­ton High­lands and there was wide­spread op­po­si­tion to Stora’s at­tempts to spray against the pest.

In Fe­bru­ary 1982, an ex­plo­sion at the mill’s steam plant killed five work­ers Hugh Arnold Camp­bell, 29, of Brook Vil­lage; James Charles Ma­son, 48, of Ash­dale; Pat King, 37, of Evanston; Paul St. Pierre, 43, of Port Hawkes­bury; and Glen An­thony Samp­son, 20, of Louis­dale, a vo­ca­tional stu­dent who was tak­ing work train­ing at the mill that week.

The mill was mod­ern­ized, with the newsprint ma­chine up­graded in 1987, and three years later it de­vel­oped the first en­tirely chlo­rine-free chem­i­cal pulp mar­ket in North Amer­ica.

In 1993, of­fi­cials with the mill’s par­ent com­pany mused pub­licly about shut­ting it down, as the mill had to im­ple­ment pricey en­vi­ron­men­tal treat­ment poli­cies. A lo­cal com­mit­tee was formed to work with the com­pany and the fol­low­ing year pro­duc­tion at the newsprint mill ac­tu­ally in­creased. In 1995, the $70-mil­lion sec­ondary treat­ment plant be­gan op­er­at­ing. Also that year, Stora planted its 100 mil­lionth seedling dur­ing a cer­e­mony in Queensvill­e, Inverness County.

On Dec. 11, 1995, com­pany pres­i­dent Jack Hartery and wood­lands vice-pres­i­dent Russ Way­cott an­nounced at press con­fer­ences in Halifax and Point Tup­per that it would con­struct a $750-mil­lion su­per­cal­en­dered pa­per line at the mill, which would pro­duce 350,000 tonnes of pa­per an­nu­ally for use in the North Amer­i­can mag­a­zine, cat­a­logue and flyer mar­ket. Ground was bro­ken in May 1996, and the project em­ployed up to 2,000 peo­ple dur­ing the con­struc­tion pe­riod.

In Oc­to­ber 1997, the com­mis­sion­ing of the new ma­chine, PM2, be­gan with pro­duc­tion of ther­mo­me­chan­i­cal pulp, to be used to pro­duce the glossy pa­per, be­gin­ning the fol­low­ing Fe­bru­ary.

In 2002, Stora Enso an­nounced it would close PM1, the newsprint ma­chine, un­less it could re­duce costs, and asked mem­bers of the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, En­ergy and Paper­work­ers Lo­cal 972 to re­open their con­tract. The com­pany shut down the ma­chine as it con­ducted ne­go­ti­a­tions with the union. Af­ter mem­bers rat­i­fied a new con­tract, PM1 was restarted. The agree­ment in­cluded early re­tire­ment pro­vi­sions, re­duced op­por­tu­ni­ties for over­time, and in­tro­duced more flex­i­ble work prac­tices with trades­peo­ple multi-task­ing where nec­es­sary and con­tract­ing out dur­ing four shut­downs per year.

In 2003, the com­pany em­barked on a $90-mil­lion ex­pan­sion of the ther­mo­me­chan­i­cal pulp line, which con­verts wood chips to pa­per pulp un­der high tem­per­a­tures. It be­gan op­er­at­ing the fol­low­ing year. The prov­ince agreed to pro­vide $15 mil­lion to sup­port train­ing of em­ploy­ees and in­fra­struc­ture.

Through­out 2005, the union and com­pany par­tic­i­pated in con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions and were un­able to come to an agree­ment, de­spite the help of a con­cil­ia­tor. In De­cem­ber, the union voted in favour of strik­ing. The mill was shut down for Christ­mas and af­ter em­ploy­ees re­jected a fi­nal of­fer from the com­pany in Jan­uary 2006, they were locked out by the com­pany.

While the mill was shut down, the prov­ince agreed to give Stora Enso $65 mil­lion over five years in ex­change for re­liev­ing it of obli­ga­tions to pro­vide additional Crown land to the com­pany.

The mill re­mained idle for most of 2006. On June 21, the union’s mill divi­sion voted 54.4 per cent in favour of a con­tract that in­cluded wage cuts and other con­ces­sions; the smaller cler­i­cal divi­sion voted 51.1 per cent in favour. The mill re­mained closed, how­ever, as Stora Enso sought to re­duce elec­tric­ity costs. The mill restarted both of its pa­per ma­chines in Novem­ber.

In Septem­ber 2007, Stora Enso an­nounced it was sell­ing all of its North Amer­i­can mills to New­Page Corp. for $2.52 bil­lion.

“ That mill does have chal­lenges, but it also is ex­tremely well-in­vested,” then New­Page pres­i­dent Rick Wil­lett said in a con­fer­ence call, call­ing PM2 the best su­per­cal­en­dered ma­chine, if not the best pa­per ma­chine in North Amer­ica.

On Aug. 22 of this year, New­Page Corp., which was bur­dened by heavy debt lev­els, an­nounced the Point Tup­per mill would shut down in­def­i­nitely. The an­nounce­ment came as a sur­prise to many, as the mill had been op­er­at­ing at near full op­er­at­ing ca­pac­ity for months, with­out main­te­nance shut­downs, and the mill had taken less down time than other New­Page mills dur­ing the re­ces­sion. The move re­sulted in lay­off no­tices go­ing to 600 mill em­ploy­ees and also di­rectly af­fected 400 peo­ple work­ing in the wood­lands. The com­pany sub­se­quently sought pro­tec­tion from its cred­i­tors and an­nounced the mill was up for sale.

Doc­u­ments filed by mon­i­tor Ernst & Young show that the mill owes $156 mil­lion to its un­se­cured cred­i­tors. The amount that it owes its 11 se­cured cred­i­tors was not dis­closed. Its debts in­clude $4-5 mil­lion owed to forestry con­trac­tors and truck­ing com­pa­nies.

The prov­ince has an­nounced a $15-mil­lion plan to as­sist con­trac­tors and con­duct sil­vi­cul­ture work while the mill is shut down. It has also said it will as­sist in the ef­fort to sell the mill and will seek mar­ket analy­ses for its prod­ucts.

Court ap­proval of any po­ten­tial sale will be sought by Nov. 22.

With an un­cer­tain fu­ture fac­ing the re­gion’s ma­jor em­ployer, the Strait area could find it­self in a po­si­tion sim­i­lar to the one it was in when ef­forts were made to at­tract Stora Kop­par­berg to Point Tup­per more than 50 years ago.

Sub­mit­ted photo

A com­mit­tee of mu­nic­i­pal and com­mu­nity lead­ers came to­gether to form the Four County De­vel­op­ment As­so­ci­a­tion. From left, front: Al­bert Whid­den, Arthur Pynn, An­gus R. Mac­Don­ald, Leonard O'Neil, Arthur J. Lan­g­ley Sr., J. Clyde Nunn, Al­fred Hat­tie, Blair...

Nancy King - Cape Bre­ton Post

Lars-Ove Staff, left, a mem­ber of the Stora Enso Port Hawkes­bury board, joined Premier John Hamm on March 18, 2003 in turn­ing the sod to of­fi­cially launch Stora's next con­struc­tion project, a new ther­mo­me­chan­i­cal pulp line to ex­tend the life of the...

Sub­mit­ted photo

This photo shows the Point Tup­per pulp mill while it was un­der con­struc­tion. Work on the mill be­gan in Novem­ber 1959 and it be­gan op­er­at­ing in early 1962.

Sub­mit­ted photo

The mill prop­erty in Point Tup­per as it ap­peared in 1988.

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