Voyageur Panel grand opening well attended

Tours of the new oriented strand board mill proved to be the most popular part of Voyageur Panel’s grand-opening celebrations held yesterday in Barwick.
By the end of the day, well over 500 people had their chance to see how OSB was made.
In fact, about an hour into the day-long event, organizers were so swamped with people waiting to tour the place that officials decided to shut down the mill.
By effecting a shutdown, the mandatory requirement for the public to wear safety equipment could be lifted, thus allowing larger crowds to tour the site.
But despite a bit of waiting to get a look inside, area residents were both pleased and amazed by what they saw.
“I was very impressed by it all,” said Lyle Hyatt, a Crozier resident and paper machine operator at the Abitibi-Consolidated mill in Fort Frances.
And once he had been through the area where strands are dried before being pressed (a hot area of the mill), Hyatt felt he was on some familiar ground.
“I can appreciate what [workers] go through. I work in the heat [too],” he remarked.
If Hyatt had any disappointments about the tour, they were directed at the decision to shut down the machines.
“I would have liked to have seen it in operation,” he noted.
Emo resident Ralph Hunsperger also was impressed by what he saw inside the mill, and offered comment on rumours that the mill’s wood supply would run out.
“I don’t think they’ll be out of wood 10 years from now. Ten and 20 years ago, people were saying that before this was even here,” he reflected.
“And I don’t think the people who build a plant like this do it with the idea that is will be [over] in 10 years,” he added. “But it might see change.”
“I don’t believe they will run out [either],” echoed John Brown of Pinewood. “They’re just on the outer edge of what’s out there.”
As far as the tour was concerned, Brown was left with a sense of wonderment at the size and cleanliness of Voyageur Panel’s operation.
“I was surprised by what I saw. It’s amazing that they could build all that and there’s still so much room in there to move around,” he enthused.
Voyageur Panel’s ultimate success also was on the lips of the dignitaries who spoke during the opening ceremonies yesterday afternoon.
Mill manager Percy Champagne spoke briefly about the history behind Voyageur Panel and the many steps it took to get to where it is today. He also stressed the importance of continuing the values of innovation and teamwork in conjunction with success.
And though the mill had made it through three years of negotiating, building and hiring, the most important job of all was still ahead–to remain a loyal friend to the surrounding communities.
“Tomorrow we continue to perform our vision and the journey goes on,” he said.
NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton, who helped pave the way for the construction of an OSB mill in the district when he was natural resources minister in Bob Rae’s government, spoke highly of Boise Cascade’s involvement in the whole process.
“Boise Cascade is very, very professional. Some [companies] tried to take the inside political track but Boise Cascade didn’t do that,” he stressed.
Hampton also praised Mike Willick, now regional director for the Ministry of Natural Resources in Thunder Bay.
“Mike Willick was the [MNR’s] project director of the whole [OSB] program. He had to have courage and ride herd on the whole thing,” Hampton noted.
“I don’t believe there is a better civil servant in the province than him.”
Meanwhile, Chapple Reeve Cecil Wilson said he was still overwhelmed that a mill the size of Voyageur Panel was actually helping to create a tax base in Barwick.
“I can’t express my gratitude for all of this accomplishment,” he said. “And I thank all the people who stood behind me to make Boise Cascade believe this was the place to come.”
Other speakers yesterday included George Harad, CEO for Boise Cascade, Kenora MPP Frank Miclash, and Dan Wright, economic development officer for the West Rainy River District.