Aurora Wood Pellet’s main proponent Brad Mapes breathed a sigh of relief last week as Fort Resolution took a significant step towards supplying raw material for a proposed wood pellet mill in Enterprise.
On Feb. 19, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on forest industry development in the area was signed in Yellowknife.
“Now we have to start talking about harvesting companies,” said Mapes, “But this gives us the first community to start harvesting and that’s probably the biggest step in this whole process.”
The MOU was signed by Environment and Natural Resources Minister Michael Miltenberger on behalf of the GNWT, Deninu Ku’e First Nation Chief Louis Balsillie, and Kara King, president of the Fort Resolution Metis Council.
Mapes said that the next step will be for Fort Providence to sign a similar agreement, hopefully by mid-March. He said that one of the biggest hurdles the most recent signing has overcome is bringing both Metis groups and First Nations into co-operation and agreement, but that he hopes Fort Resolution’s decision will pave the way for others.
“After Fort Prov, we’re looking at involving the Hay River Metis and the K’atlodeeche First Nation as harvesting communities,” he said.
While the mill would be located in Enterprise, Mapes is hopeful the project will bring a much-needed economic boost to the whole South Slave region.
“This is a big step for us,” said Balsillie.
King also called the signing a significant development.
“The MOU is a commitment by all three governments to work together to get ready for the forest management agreement and all that encompasses,” she explained.
“They’re talking about economic development. Government is showing that they’re going to invest in the South Slave, and committing to it.”
King also said it is even historic because it is the first time that the Dene and Metis have agreed to work together since the collapse of the Dene/Metis comprehensive land claim in 1990 and in spite of disagreements between Metis and the Akaitcho Territory.
“This is a big step to manage our resources together,” she said.
The territorial government also praised the MOU.
“This memorandum of understanding supports our commitment to strengthen and diversify our economy by recognizing the value of the commercial use of wood fibre in providing employment, training and business opportunities for the residents of Fort Resolution,” said Miltenberger, in a news release.
The MOU highlights the territorial government’s intention to provide short-term and long-term tangible benefits from forests to communities, create economic investment opportunities for the forest industry, and enhance environmental stewardship and ecological sustainability of forests in the NWT.
“Our biomass strategy supports the commercial use of the wood fibre to heat homes and buildings, and this MOU is the first step in a process to help ensure a supply of timber for a viable commercial operation,” Miltenberger noted.
“The next step is to sign a forest management agreement with Fort Resolution and begin the work of developing and implementing a program to build local human resources capacity related to the forest business, forest management, timber harvest planning, harvesting.”
That forest management agreement will be signed soon – possibly as early as this week – between the GNWT and the company formed by the First Nation and Metis Council. It will be known as Dene Metis Timber Management Ltd.
“That company is going to hold the forest management agreement,” King explained. “So they’re the ones that are going to decide where to harvest and they’re going to work out the details of who’s going to buy the timber.”
While King noted that the proposal by Mapes will be the anchor customer for the forest resources, she said the agreement may lead to other opportunities, perhaps even something like a local business to build log houses.
Balsillie estimated forestry development might create 12 to 15 jobs in Fort Resolution.
“I’m really excited about it because it’s going to create employment,” he said.
Balsillie noted that, at one time, Fort Resolution had a large sawmill, where he worked for many years, but he doesn’t see any large-scale operation like that returning to the community.
“I see a lot of potential in the logs that we get, but I can’t see us having a big mill ever again because of Alberta,” he said. “They can cut lumber faster than we can talk even.”
Instead, he sees a continuation of small-scale sawmilling, plus the sale of firewood and other opportunities.
“This can only get better,” he said.
King responded to concerns by some community members who think the First Nation and the Metis Council are going to cut down all the trees in the area.
“But that’s not the case,” she said. “The company is going to come up with a plan on where to harvest and they’re going to do the consultations.”
— with files from Sarah Ladik