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COVID-19 impacts NW Ontario forest industry (2 photos)

White River Forest Products is shutting down for two weeks.

WHITE RIVER, Ont. — COVID-19 is softening the demand for lumber and putting pressure on lumber prices.

White River Forest Products will shut down operations for two weeks starting March 30.

A company official could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday, but White River Mayor Angelo Bazzoni says he's not surprised by the shutdown.

He said it will help slow down the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

"The virus is certainly starting to hit home here now. It's gonna impact on our industries, our business sector...We're just asking people to adhere to the various notices that are out and we're hoping we will be able to put this behind us," Bazzoni said.

White River Forest Products provides jobs for nearly 200 people.

Bazzoni said the mill is scheduled to resume production on April 13.

Jamie Lim, president of the Ontario Forest Industries Association, said COVID-19 is presenting new economic challenges.

"Lumber demand and pricing across North America is obviously under new and extreme pressures.  So I think you will see companies making business decisions in efforts to respond to this crazy market, our new reality," Lim told Tbnewswatch.

She said she believes the White River shutdown is in response to today's market, and noted that other companies are cutting shifts or reducing operations to three days a week.

British Columbia-based West Fraser Timber this week implemented an 18 per cent drop in lumber production at its western Canada sawmills.

Lim said OFIA member companies, over the last three weeks, have also developed and implemented COVID-19 response plans that put the health and safety of employees and customers first and foremost.

She added that the industry has worked closely with the Ontario government on ways to keep mills running and keep people working.

"We were all very grateful when the government declared this week that the forest sector is an essential industry. That was huge," Lim said.

The industry is lobbying the federal government as well.

"We will be sending a letter this week to the Prime Minister, asking the government to establish a commercial loan guarantee program in an effort to restore liquidity to the central Canada lumber manufacturers," Lim said.

She said the trade dispute with the U.S. for the last two years has forced Ontario producers to deposit $300 million at the border "because of these unjust tariffs."

Lim said it's essential that the industry gets access to that money, especially now.

"If we don't, it is just going to multiply the challenges we are facing. It is a critical piece for us getting through this pandemic."


Gary Rinne

About the Author: Gary Rinne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Gary started part-time at Tbnewswatch in 2016 after retiring from the CBC
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