Mill closure has nothing to do with land value in downtown Kelowna, Tolko says | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Mill closure has nothing to do with land value in downtown Kelowna, Tolko says

Tolko lumber mill in Kelowna.
September 13, 2019 - 6:00 PM

KELOWNA - When S.M. Simpson bought land near Manhattan Point and moved his sawmill and fruit box making plant to the site in 1932 it was on swampy land that often flooded.

But he found a way to make a mill function successfully there. Under a number of different owners it expanded and kept running for 87 years – until it’s “indeterminant curtailment” was announced yesterday, Sept. 12.

Now the mill sits on prime waterfront land next to a rapidly expanding downtown Kelowna on one side and Knox Mountain Park on the other.

“I know people think we’re doing this because of the cost of the land but that’s not the case,” Janice Lockyer, Communications Advisor for Tolko Industries Ltd., told today, explaining that the high cost of logs and low price of lumber make it uneconomical to operate the mill.

When, or if, it’s ever going to reopen, no one from Tolko is saying. They will not do media interviews, Lockyer said.

“It’s not for sale,” she stressed. “We’ve left the logs in the water. We’re not doing anything with them. We’re just going to wait and, when the time comes, we will look at operating conditions and, if it warrants a restart, I’m sure they will have a discussion around that decision at that time.”

Still, it’s the only one of Tolko’s 12 operations in B.C. and Alberta that has been “curtailed,” although its mill in Quesnel was closed permanently earlier this year. It also means more than 225 direct jobs are gone, along with spin-off jobs.

A study done for the Council of Forest Industries shows that for every direct job in the forest industry, there are 1.35 indirect and “induced” jobs in the province.

But what that means for Kelowna’s employment beyond the direct jobs that are lost is unclear.

“We haven’t had the opportunity to sit down with Tolko yet – it happened so quick,” Todd Chamberlain, the general manager of the Interior Logging Association said. “I don’t think people realize the severity of the trickledown effect because it not just our members. It not just the harvesters, the truck drivers, the silviculture, it’s right down to the people who sell fuel and oil and parts and the equipment distributors and manufacturers. It’s a huge economic problem right now.”

His association has lost hundreds of jobs throughout the province during the recent problems in the industry that has seen eight other mills closed for periods in B.C. this year.

The impact on logging in the Okanagan may not be that great, Lockyer said, since Tolko’s “woodlands” division supplies logs for all its Okanagan mills. Those mills are all operating. It’s just Kelowna that has closed.

Tolko bought the mill in 2004 from Riverside Forest Products. It had a plywood plant up until 2008.

A shift with 90 employees was cut in the spring. This curtailment puts another 127 hourly workers and 20 to 25 salaried employees out of work. That means a total of 237 to 242 direct jobs gone from Kelowna.

Plus, waterfront land that's within sight of new downtown highrises is sitting idle. At least for now.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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