Softwood fight squeezes NB forestry firm with cross-border operations
Disrupting the lumber trade between Maine, Quebec and New Brunswick would hurt good-paying jobs.
EDMUNDSTON, NB — The Canadian-US softwood battle is putting the squeeze on one eastern company with a unique vulnerability to such disputes – its operations cross the border between the two countries.
Headquartered in Maine with significant New Brunswick operations, the Twin Rivers Paper Co. operates integrated pulp and paper mills connected by pipelines crossing the St. John River. One pipeline carries pulp from Edmundston, NB, to the paper plant, while another transports steam between facilities. Wood chips and biomass from Canadian sawmills help generate the steam used to make pulp.
Twin Rivers President Ken Winterhalter says recently imposed duties _ which total nearly 27 per cent – will drastically raise the costs of the wood chips and biomass, threatening jobs in both countries.
“Increased costs have the potential to destroy the financial viability of the Madawaska paper mill and eliminate thousands of jobs in northern Maine,” he wrote in a letter to US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
Twin Rivers is a major employer for the New Brunswick city of Edmundston. It is also the biggest business in the Maine town of Madawaska, which has a population of just 4,000.
Edmundston Mayor Cyrille Simard said in an interview that the two towns are closely connected because of the mills, with some employees crossing the border daily to get to work.
“There’s a lot of preoccupation in the community because this could have an impact, and the importance of the forestry sector is tremendous.”
Simard said it is helpful to have Maine Gov. Paul LePage in New Brunswick’s corner in requesting the US government exclude the province from softwood duties, as has been the case over three decades.
The Republican governor has urged the US administration not to disrupt the lumber trade between Maine and the border provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick, arguing it would hurt good-paying jobs.
“As we like to say in Maine: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the governor wrote earlier this month in a letter to Ross.
Like US President Donald Trump, LePage has a reputation for making controversial comments that generate widespread criticism.
“I know the way he (LePage) does business and maybe this is the kind of language that some people in the White House understand in a better way,” said Simard.
New Brunswick wants to be treated the same way as the other Atlantic provinces, which Ross said this week are likely to be excluded from duties when a final determination is made this summer.
Twin Rivers general manager Gilbert Carre says the company isn’t seeking any special concessions.
“We’re just asking that we be treated the same way that we were treated in the past and be totally excluded.”
Edmundston Chamber of Commerce president Luc Michaud said businesses are taking the challenges in stride in part because the pulp and paper industry, including Twin Rivers, has faced layoffs and bankruptcy over the last 25 years.
“People are already acquainted with bad news about Twin Rivers,” he said.News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2016