On May 12, Brad Mapes got news he had been waiting to hear.
Mapes, the proponent of a project to build a wood pellet mill in Enterprise, got an e-mail from his lawyers that his company has legal title to 3.2 square kilometres of land on which to build the project.
“So Aurora Wood Pellets Ltd. is officially owner of the land at the mill site,” he told The Hub the next day.
“This is a huge step for us,” said Mapes, a well-known Hay River businessman who has been working for six years to get the project going.
“I’m pretty happy, not just for my company but for the region,” he said.
The land was purchased from the Hamlet of Enterprise.
Mayor Craig McMaster welcomed the finalization of the sale.
“The Hamlet of Enterprise is very excited about the much anticipated pellet mill and Enterprise looks forward to building a strong relationship with all industry,” McMaster said in a prepared statement for The Hub. “The Hamlet of Enterprise continues to prepare for the benefits and opportunities that this development brings.”
Mapes expressed appreciation for the work the Hamlet of Enterprise had done to move the land sale forward.
Neither Mapes nor McMaster would reveal the purchase price of the land.
The land is located on the east side of Highway 1, about 3.5 km north of where the railway crosses the highway in Enterprise.
Mapes visited the land on May 13 and described some of the first changes that will be visible to travellers passing by on the highway.
In the coming months, they will start to see trees being removed from the site, which stretches for about one kilometre along the highway.
However, Mapes said a barrier of trees will be left along the highway, except for the area that will become the entranceway to the mill. The entranceway area currently does not have many trees.
Now that Aurora Wood Pellets owns the land, the plan is to start working on the site this summer.
“We’re looking at clearing all the land and getting all that set up this summer and getting some of the foundation work done, and it’s probably going to go into the fall,” said Mapes, explaining the foundation work will involve the pouring of cement.
Work beyond that will have to wait until final agreements are reached for the supply of timber.
The harvest agreement for Fort Resolution is “pretty well done,” Mapes said, while adding that work still needs to be done to create a similar agreement in Fort Providence.
Once those agreements are reached and construction of the mill actually begins, the work should take about 14 months to complete.
Mapes said the project was just a pipedream until the land was purchased.
“It’s still a pipedream until you see me dig a hole in the ground,” he said. “But I’ve spent six years of my time and my money, and I’ve not accessed any government funds for it.”
Mapes said there have been a lot of rumours that he has had government assistance for the project.
“There’s been a lot of government time and money spent on trying to figure out forest agreements for the communities and how they develop their economy,” he said, adding there has been no government money directly to the project.
“This project is more than just a project that’s going to make money for a few people,” said Mapes, who is also the mayor of Hay River. “It’s going to change the wellness of our region. It’s going to put hope into our communities.”
In particular, he said it will help children now in school find jobs in the region when they grow up.
“Those kids are the ones that are going to benefit because it’s tough to find jobs here,” he said. “So this signing of the land I’m going to say it’s probably the most important timeframe spot that we had.”
The mill is expected to produce at least 150,000 cubic metres of pellets each year but that could increase depending on supply.
A 150,000-cubic-metre production would mean about 45 to 50 jobs at the site and probably 55 truck drivers plus spin-off jobs.
Harvesting will be controlled by community groups, including in Fort Resolution and Fort Providence.
Mapes expressed a desire to get aboriginal groups in the Hay River area involved in the project, including K’atlodeeche First Nation, West Point First Nation and the Hay River Metis Government Council.
“I want to make sure that this project is not just my project,” he said. “It’s our project.”
Mapes owns 97 per cent of Aurora Wood Pellets Ltd., while the other three per cent is held by former NWT premier Joe Handley.
“It is a big project for me. I want to move forward,” said Mapes. “I’m just tired of talking about it. I want to see it happen.”