There hasn’t been a ship loading lumber at the Western Forest Products Chemainus sawmill dock since late November last year. That isn’t about to change anytime soon.
People around town have noticed the absence because it’s often a point of interest for tourists and locals to watch the ships being loaded.
“We normally would have a ship every month, sometimes two,” pointed out plant chairman Randy Robertson. “Five to eight million feet per month would be loaded onto the ships. It is now being loaded at Duke Point. At this point we don’t know whether they will be coming back to Chemainus. The company hasn’t told us either way.”
The Courier contacted WFP for an explanation and received the following reply from Rick Forgaard, vice president, manufacturing.
“We have been using the dock to ship lumber from our other Vancouver Island mills, only a small fraction of the lumber produced at the Chemainus sawmill was actually shipped off that dock,” read the statement. “Our company is seeking to increase the amount of lumber that is manufactured on the coast by directing B.C. logs to sawmills as opposed to log exports. As we increase lumber production, Western is exploring all options to improve the reliability and efficient delivery of products to our international customers.”
Robertson pointed out it must be costing WFP money to ship from Duke Point since it owns the docks at Chemainus.
“The company has not shared that information with us,” he indicated. “This started as a concern, from the company, that people might not be willing to work overtime to load the December ship because the company had just laid off 25 people. The hourly workers wanted to look at ways to get some of those guys back to work rather then working overtime.”
The company expressed its concerns with the December ship because of its year-end numbers and it never came here, starting the relocation to Duke Point.
“Since then we have been told they are now doing a cost analysis to see what is more cost efficient,” Robertson indicated. “Not having the ship does reduce our manning by a couple of positions as well.”
Besides the layoffs, numerous employee resignations and terminations during a period of seemingly low morale at the mill have resulted in a worker shortage and some new hirings from a recent job fair in Nanaimo.
Robertson said mill general manager Clayton Storey expressed an interest in starting discussions a month ago about bringing vessels back into Chemainus. The cost analysis will supposedly determine whether it’s better to load at Chemainus or somewhere else.
The ships have long been a big part of the Chemainus mill and “it’s strange not to see them anymore,” Robertson conceded.
In the meantime, Jordan Long is the new manager at the mill.