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Mayor of B.C. town hit hard by shuttered sawmill says provincial bureaucracy is delaying progress

The mayor of Clearwater in B.C.’s southern Interior says he’s prepared to lead a delegation to the legislature next week because he fears government indecision is jeopardizing a bid to revive forestry operations around a nearby sawmill. 

Mayor Merlin Blackwell says a proposal to purchase the timber cutting rights and assets of Canfor’s shuttered Vavenby Mill appears to be stalled within the Ministry of Forests.

In response to a question from Kamloops-North Thompson Liberal MLA Peter Milobar in the B.C. legislature this week,  Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said: “I have not received a proposal from Interfor or Canfor on my desk at this point.”

That response left Blackwell stunned, he told Daybreak Kamloops host Shelley Joyce, because the investor behind the proposal is on the brink of withdrawing the proposal on Feb. 28 unless significant progress occurs.

“At this point I’m flabbergasted that really, it doesn’t appear that anything has happened,” Blackwell said. 

Canfor announced the closure of the Vavenby mill, about 27 kilometres from Clearwater, in June, 2019. The shutdown eliminated more than 170 jobs. 

Vavenby, shown here by a map point, is near Clearwater and about 150 km north of Kamloops. (Google Maps)

Since then the Simpcw First Nation has negotiated with Canfor and Interfor about ensuring opportunities for their members with the transfer of the timber cutting rights and assets of the Canfor mill. 

Donaldson told the legislature he has met with local government, labour representatives and local First Nations since the Vavenby mill shutdown, while top ministry officials are in constant contact with industry. 

Blackwell said Donaldson’s answer in the legislature was disrespectful to the many people who are suffering since a downturn in the forest industry. 

He said those people deserve to know if the deal is moving forward or, alternatively, to hear a timeline for resolving the complicated issues involved, including application of  B.C.’s recently passed legislation: the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. 

 “I will not be nice about this anymore,” Blackwell said.

“Most of council backs me up,” he said. “We are willing to go stand in our suits at the [legislature] and protest this next week if we do not get a response from the minister.”

To listen to the complete interview with Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell, tap the link below: Merlin Blackwell says he’s frustrated by the lack of response from the province about what is happening with Canfor’s timber tenure transfer. 8:35

With files from Daybreak Kamloops

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