After a year of negotiations with both Resolute Forest Products and Abitibi Riversedge, the Town of Iroquois Falls finally has an agreement for a project that is expected to redevelop the former mill site that has been standing empty for more than a year.
The agreement allows the former mill, by Abitibi to be turned into a new industrial site dedicated to the manufacturing of non-forestry products and service industry businesses. Under same agreement, the neighbouring golf course will become the property of the Town of Iroquois Falls and will remain open.
The idea is to create a industrial site that will be attractive to new industries that are expected to come to the region, and will stop Iroquois Falls from being dependent on a single industry ever again. The deal is being heralded by Mayor Michael Shea as a start of a comeback for his community after it was devastated by the closure of the mill.
“Today is a dawning of a new day, it really is,” said Shea. “This vision is the beginning of what a new community of Iroquois Falls can look like,” said Shea. “We are looking beyond just the forestry industry. We have forest all around us, and for the past 100 years it seems like we’ve been dependent on the forestry industry to keep Iroquois Falls alive.
“We have to search for new opportunities.”
Shea said negotiations between the municipality and the two companies could not have gone more smoothly, and despite everything that has happened to the community in the aftermath of Resolute shutting down its mill, he said residents should be thankful to Resolute for how accommodating it was during the process.
“They said to us, ‘Tell us what you need, and we will give you want you want,’” recalled the mayor. “We might resent it, but the fact is the mill had to close and now is the time to establish new relationships.”
News of a deal was welcome news for the people of Iroquois Falls, with hundreds of residents coming out to a public meeting at the town’s community centre on Tuesday night to hear the details of the plan. The meeting hall was so full that some of the audience was forced to stand at the back.
After the mayor concluded his thoughts, Justus Veldman, the owner of Abitibi Riversedge, then took the podium to speak to the mass of residents and describe what his vision for the mill property is and how the town can reinvent itself.
The project will be known as “Abitibi Banks” because of the connection of the project to the river and how it will provide the community with access to its riverfront for the first time in the town’s history. The projects slogan: Build on.
“Build on is what Iroquois needs to do,” said Veldman. “We need to look to the next 100 years, see what we can do, what is viable … Sometimes it will be challenging. Not all the balls we are going to try and juggle will land where we want them to.”
Over the next six month, said Veldmen, the company will begin community consultations for what its vision for the site should be. Over the next year, committees will be formed and the feasibility of that vision will be studied and investment strategies will be created. Already, said Veldman, there have been a few people coming forward looking to be investors.
“I’m open to all ideas you can bring forward and we will explore them; but some with more vigour than others. You have my complete dedication and all the resources I have at my disposal to explore the ideas that Iroquois Falls brings forward,” he said.
Both Veldman and the mayor believe if the project is successful, it will ensure the long-term future of Iroquois Falls.
The goal, Veldman said, will be to transition the town from one entirely dependent on one industry to one that will have an economy based on several industries, from manufacturing to wilderness tourism.
The key will be to make sure Iroquois Falls is ready for new economic developments happening in Northern Ontario, such as the Ring of Fire and the industries that will feed into it.
“We need to position ourselves to be shovel-ready when those opportunities do come and when those industries come back, which they will,” said Veldman. “The question is which community will be ready when the economy comes back. We will try our best so that Iroquois Falls can say it has a shovel-ready site for industry.
Another major issue for the town will also be resolved with the new deal: the replacement of the trestle bridge. Veldman announced that a contract has already been awarded and construction will begin this spring.
That announcement was met with thunderous applause.
The first round of jobs will come from the demolition of the current site, the workers for this phase of the project will be sourced from Iroquois Falls as much as possible. But how many jobs will result from this work is not certain.
Two people have already been hired for unspecified jobs, said Veldman.
When the presentation concluded there was a standing ovation from the crowd.