A $12-million wood pellet project proposed to be built outside Enterprise has been delayed, but owner Brad Mapes is confident it won’t be for long.
“We had hoped to break ground June 1,” Mapes told The Hub. “But we need forest resource agreements in place with the First Nations and Metis communities before we can move forward.”
Those agreements are still under negotiation in the two biggest harvesting communities of Fort Providence and Fort Resolution. While a $6-per-cubic-metre access fee paid to the groups who own the land from which the trees will be harvested has already been accepted, there remains some debate about how much the additional harvesting fee should be.
“It’s a huge decision for these communities,” Mapes said. “They have to make sure it’s the best thing for them, but I think we’re moving in the right direction and I hope we can reach an agreement by the end of August.”
Mapes said the mill would create at least 50 positions, running the gamut from trades to office workers to engineers, as well as 150 indirect spin-off jobs in the area. Tree-harvesting practices would be sustainable and the First Nations and Metis communities would have the opportunity to reinvest their profits in the company.
“What I see happening is that a portion of the fee goes back into the company so the communities have some ownership and investment,” Mapes said. “The idea here is to empower economic development.”
The proponent said the mill would be a new venture in the territory, as well as in Canada, although it is partially modelled on similar plants in British Columbia.
Mapes said, when he is asked why he chose to build it in the NWT, his response is always the same: “I’m from here. I want to see economic benefits happen here, and if I were only in it for the money, I would put it somewhere else.”
The market for wood pellets in the NWT is still in an early stage, and while Mapes said it’s an industry he definitely thinks residents should push for, he isn’t counting on local sales to drive his plant.
“Seventy-five per cent of production will be for export,” he said. “It’s a totally new industry here and we want to see it grow, but we know that can’t happen overnight.”
The project’s price tag of $12 million and projected operating costs of $9 million a year will not be footed by the GNWT, Mapes said.
Instead, he has asked for a guaranteed contract for 10 years to supply all the territorial government’s wood pellet needs.
Despite delays, sentiment about the mill in Hay River remains positive.
Wally Schumann, president of the Hay River Metis Council, said he supports the project and looks forward to seeing it come to fruition.
“Out of all the projects out there, this one will really benefit people in our own backyard,” he said, adding the mines have had more economic impact outside the South Slave.
“This isn’t a 20-year project,” said Schumann. “They have to make sure they’re doing everything properly because this is going to be around a long time.”
— Sarah Ladik