Plans to re-open Tolko continue

County, company officials go behind closed doors to discuss tax break

Richard Froese
South Peace News
Tolko Industries could re-open its High Prairie OSB plant within months.

That was one optimistic prediction by plant manager Doug Stangier and Dave West, manager of stewardship and tenures for Alberta and Saskatchewan, when they updated Big Lakes County council at its regular meeting May 24.

“If all the chips fall into place, we could probably start a log haul in September and produce our first board by the end of the year,” West says.
“We are excited about the start-up and we want to keep it going.”

It was the first progress report by Tolko since officials spoke Jan. 20 with community stakeholders.

“We are in a better position than our competitors to restart an OSB plant,” says Stangier, who became plant manager in January and arrived in High Prairie on Feb. 1.

Tolko’s board of directors met May 24 to discuss the timeline to re-open the plant.

Over the past several months, Tolko has hired key management positions, including a human resources co-ordinator, safety manager, and technical manager.

“We see this as an aggressive move to get the plant restarted,” West says.

A full complement of 176 employees would be required for the plant, and about 150 indirect jobs would be added, Stangier says.

“It’s a significant boost to the local economy,” he says.

Several positive factors point to a prosperous business.

“There are continuing improvements in U.S. housing starts,” Stangier says.

OSB is not part of the softwood lumber duties in the U.S., although that could change, he notes.

However, uncertainty remains with the effects of the North America Free Trade Agreement where negotiations have re-opened.

Tolko officials thanked the county and Town of High Prairie for their support to lobby the government to a five-year extension for a forest management area.

“That is important, to get the wood supply,” West says.

However, more will be needed.

“We are doing an assessment of where the rest of the wood will come from,” West says.

Conservatively, $50 million will be invested on upgrades to the plant before making the first board, West says.

Tolko continues to work on other issues such as municipal taxes and provincial dues.

Tax incentives from the county are being considered and were discussed in-camera with council and the two Tolko officials.

Tolko opened in August 1995, and closed the plant in 2008.

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