SKEENA SAWMILLS is on the verge of announcing substantial improvements to its milling facility and associated works along Hwy16 west of Terrace.
Now the only substantial mill in the region, Skeena Sawmills is owned by Roc Holdings Ltd. based in the Lower Mainland.
The company is part of a substantial real estate, development and construction conglomerate located in China, a country that is one of the world’s largest lumber consumers and where demand is expected to increase.
Details of cost and the scope of the improvements have yet to be released but work to increase lumber milling capacity is expected to start this winter and within the mill’s existing buildings.
“Once the upgrade is complete, the plan is to go to two full shifts. Everything will have to double,” said plant manager Lionel Chabot last week.
That means adding to the workforce at the mill. Skeena Sawmills now employs approximately 80 people, processing up to 300,000 cubic metres of wood a year.
It is a high speed line that they are upgrading, which will increase the volume produced to one-and-a-half times the volume per two shifts, Chabot said.
“We should be able to meet the demand,” he said, adding the mill will be bigger and better. “It will up the mill to an economically viable manufacturing facility,” he said.
Asia is still the mill’s main marketplace, with 95 per cent of Skeena Sawmills’ products shipped there, said Chabot, adding the mill would never sell 100 per cent to Asia because purchasers there don’t want the other five per cent lower grade products. Those are sold locally or into eastern Canada.
The low grade products are remanufactured by the buyers into smaller pieces for use-specific products.
Skeena Sawmills dates back to the 1960s when it was owned and operated by Bill McRae, now a city freeman.
It was subsequently purchased by West Fraser and become an integral part of its northwestern B.C. forest operations, supplying chips to its Eurocan pulp mill in Kitimat.
A lengthy 2007 strike throughout the coastal forest industry idled the mill and it never fully re-opened when a new labour contract was signed. However it did continue to supply chips to the pulp mill in Kitimat.
That part of its business ended in late 2009 when West Fraser announced it was closing its Eurocan pulp mill and Skeena Sawmills was then placed in care and maintenance.
West Fraser then announced the sale of the mill, along with associated wood licences in 2011 to Roc Holdings.
At the time of the purchase, and leading to its re-opening in 2012, Roc officials noted the mill was the closest northern mill to a port facilities at Prince Rupert, saying this gave it a competitive edge by reducing transportation costs.
The company then made investments in machinery as well.
The mill has also been creative in finding customers – in 2014, for example, it began selling wood to Alberta companies rig mats, wooden sections laid down so that equipment can be driven over softer ground.