Interfor closes B.C. sawmill in latest blow for troubled lumber industry

Interfor Corp. plans to permanently close its Hammond sawmill in Maple Ridge, B.C., affecting more than 100 workers.

The Vancouver-based company says the closure is part of a reorganization of its forestry and woodlands operations amid tight supplies of logs for processing.

It says the shutdown will be complete by the end of 2019, after the mill’s remaining log and lumber inventories have been processed and shipped.

Interfor chief executive Duncan Davies says the company, which has 18 mills across North America, will seek jobs for the affected workers at its other operations or at outside mills.

Interfor is still awaiting a provincial decision on its $60-million offer to acquire Canfor Corp’s Interior cutting rights after that company closed its Vavenby sawmill in July.

When the planned deal for the cutting rights was announced, Interfor said the additional supply would “solidify” its Adams Lake operation east of Kamloops, B.C.

None of the timber was earmarked for Interfor’s coastal mills but a company statement issued Tuesday said the Hammond closure could create opportunities to increase supply for its other Metro Vancouver sawmill, located in Delta.

“The Coastal B.C. forest industry has faced significant log supply challenges over the past two decades and manufacturing capacity needs to be brought into line with available log supply,” Davies said in the statement.

Closure of its Maple Ridge sawmill would result in “repatriation of working capital tied up at Hammond,” while “monetization” is planned for the prime Fraser River-front property, the company said.

The Hammond mill mainly processes Western red cedar and has a two-shift capacity, but Interfor said it has been operating with a single shift for several years due to log supply constraints and other issues.

In August, United Steelworkers Local 2009 members at Hammond and at Interfor’s Acorn mill in Delta voted 97 per cent in favour of strike action.

The permanent closure of the Hammond mill is the latest upheaval for the B.C. forest industry, which has seen nearly two dozen mill closures, short-term shutdowns and hundreds of layoffs through the Interior over the summer.

A lack of supply and volatile markets were blamed in those cases, while Davies said cedar producers such as the Hammond mill have been “disproportionately impacted by duties on shipments into the United States as a result of the softwood lumber dispute.”