Fort St. James declares financial crisis following sawmill closure

A northern B.C. community has declared a state of local financial crisis after the district’s sawmill was sold last month.

The declaration for the District of Fort St. James was ordered by the mayor Tuesday night and will remain in force for 30 days unless ordered otherwise.

The sawmill closed after Conifex decided to sell the facility to Hampton Lumber, a decision that Mayor Bev Playfair says left 226 people unemployed.

“We want to send out our heartfelt thoughts to these employees and their families that they’re going through a hard time right now,” Playfair said.

Playfair says the closure affects more than just the workers, noting there is a “trickle down” effect felt by the rest of the community.

She’s hopeful the declaration will result in the creation of job opportunity programs by the federal and provincial governments to prevent workers from leaving.

‘This is the third time’

Although a declaration of financial crisis is a first for the district, Playfair says the community is not new to mill closures, with this being the third time the facility has closed. New owners re-opened the facility after the first two closures.

But this time is different, Playfair explains, noting the district received $2 million from the federal government for a job opportunities program last time around.

“It just was a huge success,” she adds. “It kept workers in our community.”

Economic transition

Meanwhile, the district will be offering transition support, including a job and services fair being held at the end of the month where workers can be connected to new employers and learn more about the services available to them.

But Playfair says she’s still hopeful the new buyer, Hampton Lumber — which runs nine sawmills across the Pacific Northwest — will re-open the sawmill.

“We would love to see a new facility built and replace Conifex. We understand it will not employ all the employees that are out of work right now but that was that would be the best case scenario for Fort St. James,” she added.

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