Local businessman looking at Hay River’s future

It’s a somewhat rare occasion to meet with Wesclean owner Brad Mapes on a fall day—every season is a busy season.

“I’m never in town,” he said, “and when I am, I’m always in meetings.”

But the time in between he was able to spare an hour, between meetings, to talk about his newest business venture—one that’s closest to his heart. 

Mapes is hoping to start a pellet mill close to Hay River or at the very least in the South Slave region, and is going forward without seeking government business grants.

His hope is to improve the economy in Hay River and to delve into the lucrative industry to eventually have a thriving alternative energy business.

Up in his office, awards, family pictures and paintings splay the wall including paintings of two women he’s not related to.

They’re local elders.

“Traditionally it’s the men that get a lot of the recognition for business decisions and negotiations,” said Mapes.

“I’m a firm believer that behind every good man there’s a good woman.”

Having been born and raised in the town, Mapes said he understands how and why it’s been so difficult for the little town to gain ground after several tough economic blows.

“This is my home,” said Mapes.

“I know our little town has been suffering in the last couple of years. But I think it’s slowly recovering and I firmly believe this project is going to be a part of that.”

The only thing is, he’s not exactly sure where it’s going to go. And, in engaging in talks with First Nations groups around the South Slave including Katlo’deeche, Kakisa, Jean Marie, Fort Providence and Fort Resolution along with the town of Hay River, he has to have solid cooperation before laying down specific plans.

So far, everyone seems to be on board, he says, but it’s still a risk.

It also has to be an environmentally feasible idea.

The question of biomass as a renewable resource has come under fire in Canada’s Eastern provinces when ensuring regulation for sustainable forest management.

But as per an NWT Wood Pellet Pre-feasibility analysis completed in 2009, 40 per cent of small wood pellets used by those living in the Northwest Territories are produced in Northern Alberta and B.C.

Having a local plant would cut down on transportation costs and emissions.

“Even with my own daughters, the first question is ‘are you going to kill all the trees,’” said Mapes.

“That’s where responsible forest management comes in. We take dead and diseased trees that can be used. But there are going to be areas that are clear cut. There are also going to be areas where there will be selective cutting.”

If he can get communities completely on board, he believes it could be a thriving business benefitting the town as well as residents.

Mapes pointed to a picture of his father out in front of the Wesclean building in the ‘70s.

Mapes is the current owner and also owns and operates Aurora Decorating.

“My father started this business on his own with a little bit of help,” said Mapes.

“But 40 years later we’re still a small business that’s thriving and supporting local economy.”

Taking a trip outside the building overlooking en empty field in the industrial area, Mapes expressed his hope for the ideal—that a potential mill be located in Hay River.

But no matter where the mill is located, he said, it has potential for bolstering the local economy.

“If this (pellet mill) isn’t located directly in Hay River I still think the town will benefit from new business and this new venture,” he said.

“I think our town needs something positive.”

Now that use of pellet stoves is steadily gaining popularity in the north, Mapes says that the issues at hand are making the product most cost effective for consumers, benefitting residents by providing gainful employment opportunities.

The mill that Mapes and partners are envisioning could employ between 30 and 40 workers, not including positions in forest management and lumber hauling.

Mapes is hoping to have more solid confirmation on lot location by December, but is confident it will be somewhere in the South Slave region.

He’s setting a tentative date for the project to strike ground by June 2012.

It would then take approximately 12-14 months to construct, and the final product would ideally have an output of 60,000 cubic tonnes per season.

The Northwest Territories currently uses approximately 12,000 tonnes per year, but with the industrial mines, there is the potential for more reliance.

No matter where the mill is built Mapes is adamant that businesses in Hay River are going to play a key part.

“There’s a lot of impact that could come from this,” said Mapes.

“In the last three or four years I’ve seen communities suffer. In the past we’ve undergone similar situations and have been able to rebound. It’s taking a little bit longer this time.”