Most of you will remember your intense feelings of sadness and sympathy for the victims, and even fear for our own mill workers, on hearing the news of the explosions of the Babine sawmill in Burns Lake and the Lakeland sawmill in Prince George – tragic events of just a few months ago. Following the destruction of the Lakeland mill, I participated in a conference call originating from Canfor’s head office that linked a number of sawmill executives with northern elected officials. Lakeland was fresh in our minds and we were hopeful that we would be given some understanding of the risks hanging over other sawmills in the region. To date the cause of the disasters has not been unequivocally identified, but sawmill operators are working closely with WorkSafe BC to eliminate potential flash points. During that conference call, I requested that Chetwynd Council be scheduled for a tour of Canfor’s Chetwynd operation. We felt a need to see for ourselves the environment to which our mill workers go each day as they earn their bread and butter.
During the past week Council with our CAO and Economic Development Officer toured the Canfor and CFI mills. We came from our tours with a great appreciation for the two plants that are so vital to the livelihood of our community. We walked out into the sunshine with enormous respect for the skill and integrity of the mill management. And we came back to our own work with renewed confidence in the operations that support hundreds of our neighbors and friends.
From the log intake to the strapped bundles of lumber destined for world markets, we saw it all. We saw the professionalism of the workers and derived confidence from the way they remained on task under the scrutiny of big-eyed tourists. Logs, round, lumpy, and barky were reduced in just seconds to smooth boards grade-stamped and bundled for market. Wood waste – bark, log ends, broken chunks, sawdust – was carried efficiently to its destination and it was obvious that the efforts to contain and redirect fugitive dust were working. (I even ran my fingers over several flat surfaces to test the level of collected dust.)
Our guides were candid with their appraisal of the work they were doing to reduce potential hazards and were pleased that Council took an interest in their work. For our part, we recognize that we are not the experts in hazard reduction in sawmills but we do care that the operators are taking their roles seriously and are moving toward eliminating hazards that are now recognized.
We should not be surprised that the topic is still very much alive on the provincial scene. It was just this morning, August 21, that CBC Radio was interviewing workers who experienced the Lakeland explosion. We are thankful that Chetwynd has been spared, and trust that continuing vigilance will continue to spare our workers and our community from the pain that others still feel.
Merlin Nichols, Mayor