PORTLAND, OR - Hampton Affiliates said it will rebuild the Babine Forest Products sawmill in Burns Lake, BC, destroyed in a deadly explosion and fire, contingent on government guarantees for sufficient timber supply and negotiating "an acceptable agreement" with the United Steel Workers union.
The mill, co-owned by the Burns Lake Native Development Corporation (BLNDC), was mainly processing logs infested with the mountain pine beetle, when an explosion ripped through the planing mill on Jan. 20 killing two and seriously injuring dozens of other workers.
Steve Zika, CEO of Hampton Affiliates, said, “There is no way to reverse the terrible tragedy that occurred on that fateful night that killed two of our workers and forever altered the lives of many in Burns Lake. However, we hope this good news will allow our employees and the community to focus on a positive effort to restore economic vitality to Burns Lake.
"The decision by the Hampton family and Board of Directors was not an easy one due to the precarious timber supply situation brought about by the pine beetle that has ravaged forests throughout British Columbia," Zilka added. "However, they felt comfortable moving forward with the rebuild based on preliminary negotiations with the Ministry of Forests and the solid support of all six First Nations bands of the BLNDC who have pledged to commit timber supply to the new Babine sawmill."
Zilka added that he hopes agreements can be finalized with the the British Columbia government for timber supply and the union in time for a scheduled Dec. 3 meeting of the Hampton Affiliates Board of Directors "so they can be assured that some of the risk in this decision has been reduced."
In the meantime, plans are proceeding with engineering, site preparation and equipment selection. Given government support and a completion of a union contract, a smaller sawmill, with more updated technology, could be up and running by early 2014.
A similar deadly tragedy at the Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George, BC, in April led WorkSafeBC, the province's OSHA-like agency, to clamp down on combustible dust at hundreds of sawmills and wood processing plants.
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