By Kelsey Verboom

Pioneer Staff

The family-run WoodEx mill in Edgewater could be forced to close due to a lack of available wood.

The medium-sized sawmill has been operating only intermittently for the past five weeks, leaving at least 45 employees with an uncertain job future.

Douglas Riddell, President, CEO, and owner of WoodEx, blames the lack of work on the inaction of the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, which he said has created a local lumber market locally that is dominated by forestry giant Canfor, leaving WoodEx short on wood supply.

According to Mr. Riddell, WoodExs troubles began with the merger of Canfor and Tembec, where Canfor acquired the Radium and Elko sawmills, as well as their allowable cut tenure.

In the area between Golden and Cranbrook, Canfor now holds an annual allowable cut volume of 901,157 cubic metres, compared to WoodExs 29,877.

This imbalance makes it impossible for WoodEx to compete in the market, Mr. Riddell said.

I dont think Canfor has done anything untoward, but it is clear in my mind that it comes down to the responsibility of the ministry in maintaining and extracting the best value of public resources in a fair and equitable log market.

Minister Steve Thomsons decision to allow the merger of Canfor and Tembec does not exceed the anti-competitive threshold as outlined in the Forestry Act, ministry spokesperson Brennan Clarke said in an email response. The decision to allow the merger to move ahead was made keeping in mind Canfors commitment to pursue a fibre supply agreement with WoodEx.

WoodEx is not currently harvesting its allotted annual cut of 29,877 cubic metres, Mr. Brennan added. But Mr. Riddell said it is physically impossible to harvest the one-time cut amount, as right now it is tied up in paperwork and is not legally allowed to be cut.

BC Timber Sales is planning to put up for bid more than 240,000 cubic metres in timber sale licences in the Cranbrook and Invermere timber supply areas over the next year, but without a solid timber base to start with, Mr. Riddell said WoodEx wont be able to afford to bid tit-for-tat with larger companies like Canfor.

Local MLA, Norm Macdonald, said that while he is happy to see the Canfor mill up and running, he hopes it does not come at the expense of other loggers, truckers, and employees in the valley.

In order to keep operating, WoodEx is asking for 130,000 cubic metres of allowable cut per year 25 per cent of what the mill would consume in a year running at full capacity. For now, WoodEx continues to run intermittently by receiving sporadic log supply from Canfor. Locally, Canfor has been very helpful in working with WoodEx, Mr. Riddell stressed.