Peter Mansbridge once said he’d never seen a town so determined to survive against tremendous odds until he visited Atikokan.
On Monday the hard-hit Northwestern Ontario community lived up to the former CBC anchor’s words, finding the money and fibre to reinvent one of the town’s main employers to provide as many as 95 forestry-related jobs.
Atikokan Renewable Fuels, which plans to convert the shuttered Fibratech particle board plant into a wood pellet factory, officially learned the province will provide an annual poplar and birch wood allocation of 179,400 cubic metres needed to produce the pellets.
The Ontario government, through the Northern Heritage Fund Corporation, will also provide $1.25 million to help retrofit the plant convert the existing natural gas heating to a wood fibre system.
“We’re helping them to reinvent that facility,” said MPP Bill Mauro (Lib., Thunder Bay-Atikokan). The wood is the key part. These guys will be producing pellets for both domestic and international markets.”
Mauro said the move will position the company to supply the refurbished Atikokan Generating Station, which is being switched from coal to pellets, though the Queen’s Park representative said ARF will still have to win the bid process before a contract could be awarded.
“They’re in a good position I would expect, given their proximity to the plant, when it comes to harvesting the material and transportation of the product. So as that process unfolds and moves forward, if they were to be the successful bidder, obviously that would mean significantly more employment as well,” Mauro said.
For ARF founder Ed Fukishima it means a future for the community.
“This announcement is an important step toward creating new forestry-based jobs in Atikokan and surrounding areas,” Fukushima said in a release issued by the province on Monday afternoon, coinciding with a news conference held in Atikokan.
He also praised the province for moving ahead with the allocation process through a wood supply competition, which had 115 submissions from new and existing forest companies last March.
A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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