Public will have second chance to engage in process
Addressing a small crowd of 17 people on Wednesday, Peter Milley of Halifax Global discussed what the forest diversification strategy hopes to accomplish in the consulting firm’s study happening this summer in Grand Falls-Windsor.
File photo The use of the region’s forest resources will be the focus of an upcoming study.
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The study aims to find opportunities for forestry to diversify the economy in the region by looking at what the value of the resource is, and what the best opportunities may be.
“We want the community fully engaged in this process,” said Milley.
Wednesday’s community input session was the start of community engagement.
The consultants will present the study findings to the public.
This is the fifth time the company has worked with a community in the aftermath of a mill closure and they want to make sure that the opportunities are not only an economical fit, but also a cultural fit to the town of Grand Falls-Windsor and surrounding area.
Residents of Grand Falls-Windsor are well aware that the decrease in demand for paper News print production is partially what led to the downfall of the local Mill with a 75 per cent decrease in demand over just 10 year.
Now, like many other places, Grand Falls-Windsor is left with an available resource that is being under utilized; drastically reduced activities are not unique to Newfoundland and Labrador, Milley noted.
In 2005, there were seven paper machines operating in the province where now there is just one, the situation is similar in New Brunswick though Milley said their situation is much more dire.
“There is a base to build from; we do have a resource here,” said Milley, “We need to get to the right scale to make this work on a sustainable basis.”
Under utilization of the resource may make it seem like there is a lot of wood (but) when you compare it to a world scale, thanks to the extremely slow growing cycle of 80-120 years, there is not actually a lot of resource to work with, he noted.
“We have to figure out how to get to the scale that will be supportable with the resource,” Milley added. “Can we produce new things at old sites is what it comes down to.”
A critical factor in finding a way to make something sustainable using the resource we have is technologies come together to utilize the entire tree – as the old industry did, will be critical, Milley said.
“The traditional wood platform won’t work. Advanced wood products (are) most likely the foundation for the new sector,” Milley said.
Advanced wood products include cross-laminated timber and engineered wood products.
A single product project is unlikely to be viable as it cannot absorb all of the feedstock costs and it will be very tough, if not impossible, to absorb the costs with one output stream, said Milley.
Bio products, bio chemicals and biofuels appear to be the way of the future for the forestry resource.
People need to think about the resource somewhat differently, Milley said.
“Really, trees are very young oil. That sounds kind of strange and funny but in fact that’s exactly what it is. Anything you can get from a barrel of oil, you can get from a tree. The issue is can you get it in quantities that make any sense and with technologies and economics that work.”
Research, development and innovation are absolutely essential, he continued.
The College of the North Atlantic is considering a research and innovation center here for at the Grand Falls-Windsor campus.
“I think it is an outstanding idea. It is probably key to the future success of the sector here,” said Milley.
There are very few examples of towns that have rebounded from the closure of a mill, Milley pointed out.
One idea that was tried in Nova Scotia that could work here is if the town made it policy that the default construction material for any public building must be wood,
“Those are the kinds of things that can be done, demonstrate the use of wood,” said Milley.
That being said, solid wood is still only 45 per cent of the tree and would never make enough to cover the cost of what it would take to get the tree out of the forest.
Another opportunity is heating institutional buildings with wood.
“If you had enough volume producing both heat and electricity, combined heat and power and potentially selling some of it to the grid as surplus…, those things are all possible,” Milley noted.
“We’ve got to try a whole range of new ideas. Some of them are not going to work so when they don’t, we try others, (that) is basically what it’s going to be about….”
“If this was straightforward and easy it would be happening,” Milley said.
“It is going to take a political governing authority to say, ‘that is how you will do things,’” he added.
Grand Falls Windsor Town Councillor Peggy Bartlett wasn’t impressed with the turnout.
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t get more people considering the amount of comments that have been going around town the last couple of months,” she told the advertiser Thursday. “There were lots of comments, but why didn’t more people show up?”
“I’m pleased that we did the public input session because it informed people about what’s about to happen, so people don’t have to wonder,” Bartlett continued. “It shows that they’re reaching out into the resources that are there… to see if there’s anything new out there that we’re missing.”
“I think what it really was last night; he’s saying ‘we’re going to leave no stone unturned in looking at what options,” Bartlett added. “
“I’d like to see what options are there because there was nothing there that jumped out at us.”