Mayor seeks answers on mill and wood rights

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

A presentation was given to the mayor and council Monday evening to formally answer questions that Fort Frances Mayor June Caul posed to the Rainy River Future Development Corporation (RRFDC) on the Sustainable Forest License (SFL) and the Boundary Waters Forest Management Corporation (BWFMC).

The mayor requested answers to eight questions, including an up-to-date list of the shareholders of BWFMC, details of ownership, including how many shares and the types of shares each stakeholder of the BWFMC holds, all pertinent details regarding the current enhanced Sustainable Forest License (eSFL) for the Boundary Waters Forest and the previous Sustainable Forest License (SFL) for the Crossroute and Sapawe Forests, including wood allocations.

The mayor asked about how BWFMC would ensure that wood fibre from the Boundary Waters Forest is being utilized in the Rainy River District to support the development and long-term availability of wood fibre from the Boundary Waters Forest.

The mayor also inquired about how the recently announced upgrade to the Resolute Sawmill in Thunder Bay will impact the wood supply for the Town of Fort Frances and the Rainy River District.

According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), a SFL is a long-term license granted for up to 20 years that grants the right to harvest all species of trees found in the licensed area. SFLs are reviewed every five years by an independent forest audit. 

Currently, this license is held by BWFMC which was formed on Sept. 20, 2020, when Crossroute and Sapawe were amalgamated to be Boundary Water Forest. Mike Willick, BWFMC president, gave the presentation answering the mayor’s questions. He said the wood supply is set by the Forest Management Plan for the next 20 years and that wood allocation cannot be changed under the current SFL. 

“Clearly the BWFMC is providing significant benefits to the district,” Willick said. “Wood directors could not be changed when we transferred the SFL from Resolute to Boundary Waters Forest.”

He added that the condition of the negotiations was that the wood supply had to remain the same when it transferred to the BWFMC’s SFL, adding that there was some risk that if Fort Frances pushed hard to change wood allocation, other partners might have gone ahead without them. 

Caul said the most difficult thing for her is thinking the town might have had the opportunity to bring wood that was destined for the mill and be accessed by another company to start a new business. 

Caul said she does not blame Willick or the minister for the missed opportunity to use the mill as a result of wood allocation to Resolute until 2032.

Willick said any organization that was going to buy the mill should have had the political backing to get the wood. 

“[Resolute] played us well,” Willick said. “They knew how the game was played.”

However, Willick said the position of the MNRF is that the wood is Ontario’s wood not Fort Frances’ wood. 

Tannis Drysdale, economic development consultant to the RRFDC, said they have consulted with legal firms. She said legal firms agreed with the MNRF that Fort Frances was secondary to the licensee. 

“We could never find anyone in the legal community who was writing us opinions that would back up our premise,” Drysdale said. “We wish we could. But we could not.”

The mayor’s inquiry was sparked when David Kircher, a lifelong resident of Fort Frances, a local expert on the history of the paper mill and a strong opponent of the mill demolition, gave a presentation to council asking for a judicial review of the MNRF’s application of the Crown Forest Sustainability Act (CFSA).

This review, Kircher said, will look into the reason a forest license was extended to 2022 to a company that had no pulp processing facility in town.

In order for an organization to get an extension on their SFL, they have to be audited every five years by an independent forest auditor.

In the case of the Fort Frances paper mill, two audits were carried out on the activity of the mill in town from 2002 to 2007 and 2007 to 2012. The license extension for these two audits was based on the mill activity. However, the mill had been shut since 2014 and with no activity since then to 2017, a license should not have been granted to Resolute, Kircher said.

Kircher’s opposition to the mill demolition stems from the belief that the facility could have been sold on to either Repap or Experia, had Resolute not placed restrictive agreements that prevented wood allocation to the mill.

Kircher said in an email that consulting with law firms on wood allocations is money well-spent. However, he questioned whether the legal opinion included the information in the 2017 Independent Forest Audit, a document Kircher said he believes was not carried out by an independent organization. Kircher said an independent audit would have proved lack of activity at the mill and therefore stopped an SFL extension.

Coun. Douglas Judson said the mayor was not in position to make the request to RRFDC, citing an agreement between the corporation and the town that only a CAO is to make requests of that nature.

Judson also said that most of the information in Willick’s report is not new and has been publicly available, adding that he could not justify a consultation bill of more than $4,000.

“The mayor is not the CAO,” Judson said. “The mayor’s request drove up a consulting bill that amounts to three households tax bills for the year to get answers to questions we’ve already received. That seems like a waste of resources. I haven’t heard much tonight that isn’t information I have received before.”

However, Kircher said in an email to Judson that the report to council was well worth the $4,000 cost. “You may not have learned anything new, however I did,” Kircher said.