The sawmill in Burns Lake that exploded in January, killing two workers, will be rebuilt – despite a legal case hanging over the head of the American company that owns the mill.
Hampton Affiliates, the Portland company that owned the Babine Forest Products sawmill, announced Tuesday that its board of directors has approved the plan to rebuild.
The mill's reconstruction was announced in mid-September, after the B.C. government and six First Nations with Burns Lake Native Development Corp. (BLNDC) agreed to a timber supply arrangement that would guarantee the mill the log supply it needed to justify being rebuilt.
At the time, Hampton Affiliates CEO Steve Zika said the rebuild was subject to final approval by his company's board of directors.
Just last week, the mill's reconstruction was put into question when WorkSafeBC announced a its referral to Crown prosecutors of evidence gathered in an investigation into the Burns Lake mill fire and the Lakeland Mill fire in Prince George.
"The confirming decision made yesterday by the Hampton board of directors to rebuild the Babine sawmill is a reflection of its trust and confidence in our ability to supply the mill with logs based on the solid support of all six First Nations bands of the BLNDC," Zika said.
"Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson and his staff have worked hard in fairly and transparently moving the timber supply process forward."
The new mill will be two-thirds the size of the old one – a reflection of the dwindling log supply that has begun to hit the Interior forest sector. Hampton hopes to see the mill built and in operation by early 2014.
Since the matter is now before the courts, WorkSafeBC has not released the findings of its investigation into the two mills fires. It has widely speculated, however, that extremely dry dust from dead pine – killed by the mountain pine beetle – may have been a contributing factor.
"We have worked diligently on improving clean-up routines and dust reduction at our Decker Lake sawmill and at Hampton's other mills in the U.S.," Zika said. "The company is also actively participating with [WorkSafeBC] and the industry task force on combustion risks and will incorporate these findings into a new Babine sawmill."