KAMLOOPS — Aspen Planers says the memorandum of understanding signed last week between the Merritt mill and Lower Nicola Indian Band will boost its timber supply and keep it going well into the future.
"It helps us because the Lower Nicola Indian Band has a long-term timber license in the amount of 50,000 cub metres per year," says Aspen Planers executive vice-president Bruce Rose. "That's one aspect that helps us because those logs will be directed to the Merritt mill."
The mill is now the cornerstone of the Merritt economy, the only one remaining in town, 14 months after Tolko shut down. A family-run operation that provides 150 direct jobs to Merritt.
"Aspen Planers, the family that started it, this is their flagship," says Merritt mayor Neil Menard. "They've been here for years [since 1959]. They've been a great corporate citizen. They very seldom lay off until they absolutely have to."
The hope is the 150 people working there will be able to stay put. Aspen Planers says timber supply has been a struggle since early 2016 with the last of the pine beetle kill running out.
Since its inception in 1959, the Ghog family, which started Aspen Planers, has relied on partnerships with First Nations for timber. This recent deal is solidifying what the mill has been doing for almost 60 years.
"This is a clear recognition of the joint interest that the First Nations and Aspen have around a successful management of the and successful forest product manufacturing in the Nicola Valley," notes Rose.
For the Lower Nicola Indian Band, the deal is necessary to create more jobs for the local First Nations, some of whom were affected by the closure of Tolko sawmill.
"When we meet quarterly, we'll be looking at ways first how we can work together in terms of stewardship and taking care of our lands," says Lower Nicola Indian Band chief Aaron Sumexheltza, formerly Sam. "We'll also be looking at how we can ensure that band member-owned companies are able to get work when it comes to logging."
Coupled with this understanding, the band, as well as the city, is hoping the province will reconsider its annual allowable cut in the Nicola Valley and ensure the timber that's harvest in Merritt stays.
Rose notes timber licensing in B.C. is complicated. As far as adding more employees at the mill, more opportunities are always a possibility, but he said it would take a substanial increase in the amount of timber supply to put another shift on at Aspen Planers.
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