A major step on the way to a proposed wood pellet mill in Enterprise is expected to happen next month.
Chief Louis Balsillie of Deninu Ku’e First Nation (DKFN) in Fort Resolution told The Hub he hopes to see a forest resource agreement finalized by February.
“The Akaitcho didn’t see a problem with it,” he said on Jan. 4. “Now it’s just up to the locals to follow through with it.”
The organizations involved include the Fort Resolution Metis Council and DKFN itself, but Balsillie said he is confident the memorandum of understanding they signed in 2013 will be finalized early this year.
“I’m thinking it will be pretty quick,” he said. “This development is going to mean jobs and business development for the community, and right now there is no employment here.”
The agreement would be part of the development process for the pellet mill, proposed and largely funded by Hay River businessman Brad Mapes.
It lays out the processes by which the wood will be harvested from community-controlled lands and sold to the mill.
Mapes said his goal is to empower communities in the South Slave and to promote renewable-resource industry that will provide direct employment and spin-off opportunities in places that may currently lack them. There is a similar agreement on the table for Fort Providence, but no word yet on if and when it will be finalized.
“People sometimes tell me they think this (project) is taking a long time,” said Mapes. “But things worth doing take time. This project has brought First Nations and Metis groups together to work towards the future of their communities.”
Mapes said he wants to see the forest resource agreements finalized so the mill can move into the next steps of development – namely, organizing how the fibre will be harvested and transported to the mill.
“We want to use the capacity in the communities to harvest and transport the wood to the mill site,” said Mapes. “Creating jobs across the South Slave is the goal here.”
The proponent said that, while other regions of the NWT have reaped the benefits of various resource industries turning to First Nations communities for services and employees, the South Slave has yet to see that kind of investment.
Although the proposed mill in Enterprise remains an economic venture, Mapes said he is driven by what he called the “wellness factor” of the project.
“From the start with this, I looked at the kids in the communities and the opportunities for them to stay in the community and be employed were few and far between,” he said. “This will give them a chance to stay if they want to, and this industry can go on forever. There’s no life-limit to it like a mine.”
Balsillie agreed with the sentiment.
“Right now, we don’t have anything going here,” he said. “We used to have the biggest (saw) mill in the territory and employed lots of people. There’s no employment now, and this project will change that.”