After five years of waiting, there's a flurry of activity surrounding the mill in Fort Frances.
"At this time, there is a growing number of people and organizations expressing an interest in properties associated with the site. We must therefore proceed expeditiously," said Resolute vice-president Seth Kursman in a prepared statement.
The company received a written letter of interest late last Wednesday from Repap Resources Group, who said they were interested in negotiating a purchase for a restart in 2019. This could create over 250 direct jobs with good salaries, along with several hundred more indirect jobs in the area.
In his statement, Kursman noted the company has spent $30 million trying to keep the plant in operating condition. However, before the recent interest, the company was leaning more towards community development and the divestment of properties. The mill was closed in 2014.
While excited about the possibility of a restart, Unifor national representative Steve Boon also offered a note of caution.
"We are extremely pleased to see that Repap Resources has now formally expressed an interest in purchasing the closed Resolute Forest Products mill in Fort Frances. Both the Kenora and Ear Falls sawmills are back in full production after experiencing long-term closures back in 2009, and it would a huge boost to the region to now see the Fort Frances mill actually dodge the wrecking ball and also successfully re-start production," Boon said in a prepared statement.
"We have had a number of discussions with Repap Resources ontheir start-up plans and I think it is fair to say that we have a framework in place for finalizing a long-term start-up collective agreement upon the successful sale of the mill. It should be quite obvious that a final mill sale and subsequent re-start is a much preferable scenario for everyone involved over an expensive demolition, and the permanent loss of hundreds of well-paying forestry jobs in the region," Boon continued.
"However, in order to ensure this mill sale can be successfully finalized, it is imperative that both the Government of Ontario and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry also step up to ensure that Repap Resources -- or any company willing to re-start this mill -- have full, secure access to sufficient wood supply volumes that have been historically allocated for operating this facility," he added.
"If Resolute were to decide to demolish the mill, instead of selling it to a company willing to run it and create hundreds of jobs, I would expect every citizen in the region would demand Resolute lose any control of the Fort Frances mill wood basket. There should be no incentive for Resolute to demolish that mill over selling it, and I would expect Greg Rickford and the province should likely share this view," Boon stated, in an email.
In a note from the Town of Fort Frances, it said Repap would have to successfully negotiate with the province, in order to ensure access to the fibre currently assigned to the Fort Frances mill from the local Crossroute Forest.
In 2016, Resolute identified enough fibre was available to operate the Fort Frances mill, during negotiations with another potential buyer, noted Mayor June Caul.
“We look forward to assisting Repap Resources Group in their bid to purchase the Fort Frances paper mill. Returning 263 new jobs in the Rainy River District is remarkable," the mayor said in a media release. "It will not only reunite families will also provide long-term opportunities for our youth.”