Town recieves funds to create plans for two mill properties

Sam Odrowski

The Town of Fort Frances was given 90 days to find a new buyer of the shuttered pulp and paper mill here in October but no offers were put forward to restart it.

Council is now looking at different ways of utilizing the mill properties that were formerly owned by Resolute Forest Products.

To help determine the best path for the community moving forward, the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) recently invested $65,000 to create redevelopment plans at two mill properties.

“The Town of Fort Frances is very pleased to be granted funds from NOHFC,” said Mayor June Caul.

“This support will be used to conduct a land use and economic feasibility study for the redevelopment of the Shevlin wood yard and the former nursing station, creating a gateway to the Rainy Lake Market Square.”

Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford, who’s also chair of the NOHFC, visited council chambers last Thursday to announce the provincial funding.

“This project will benefit the community with a plan to help address the economic impact of the mill closure and identify future economic development opportunities,” he said. “The town is taking a proactive approach to determine the best use for both of those properties.”

“The redevelopment plan will be used to attract investors to the community, which will ultimately lead to more jobs, economic diversification, community growth, and increased tourism,” Rickford added.

While the funding isn’t six or seven figures, it will be a great asset for exploring economic opportunities in the short and long term, Coun. Hallikas noted.

Like many communities in northwestern Ontario, Fort Frances has suffered economically from the downturn of the forestry industry and permanent closure of the local mill in 2014, he added.

“This has forced many northern communities to reinvent themselves and become more creative in pursuing economic goals,” Coun. Hallikas explained.

“The resiliency, tenacity, and industriousness, of Fort Frances and district residents should never be underestimated.”

Rickford told the Times the forestry sector is on “life support” throughout North America and mills are shutting down throughout British Columbia on a weekly basis.

In the region, he pointed to Kenora Forest Products, which folded before the Christmas holidays.
“The smaller operations are having their challenges and we’ve been particularly vulnerable, so this is an important time for us.”

“We need to be in a good position to plan for the resources that are here and create opportunities for existing mills like Norbord.”

Rickford lauded the work that’s been done through Resolute to ensure Norbord has rights to hardwood in the region.

“I think today’s announcements . . . represent an interest by everyone to be realistic, to get involved in diversification, and hedge against some of the traditional resource base industries that have wholly supported our towns and cities.”