by Andru McCracken, Editor

News that the Hauer Brothers Mill is preparing to shut down is tough to take sitting down. Hauer’s run has been incredible and their 70 years of operation is a great legacy, but are we really going to watch them go down?

It would appear fait accompli, but reason must prevail.

Hauer’s mill is still viable, the market is strong, the 6x6s and 4x6s it produces are in demand. The problem is that the waste it creates can no longer be burned in a beehive burner. But seeing as this is an issue for any potential mill, we must find a way to deal with wood waste locally or consign ourselves to NEVER having a mill again.

Big mills in the city have the power of consolidation. They can push bone dry shavings from the planer over to the pellet plant, where that product too makes money. But a small scale plant without access to kiln dried shavings and sawdust doesn’t have a hope in heaven of making pellets at a competitive rate. It’s not an option and shipping the waste is too expensive. But there has to be a way.

I hear a lot of moaning and groaning about Trans Mountain’s stalled pipeline. Many locals were excited about the money that was going to rain down from the heavens and an untold other number were terrified about the environmental consequences of the project.

As if locals had some say in the matter. You do not.

And the stakes for Valemount are low, either way.

Money will not rain down on the community if the pipeline goes ahead, and the building of the pipeline isn’t the straw that will break the camel’s back and explode the earth into pieces.

So let’s not talk about pipelines. If you are a member of this community and care about its economy, its history of logging and its long term sustainability, you ought to divert some attention from that pipeline to this debacle: Valemount’s imminent and near-complete exit from sawmilling. Apart from our limited participation in a cedar market, we will say goodbye to one of our last sawmills.

In the same way the last government tipped the scales in favour of big forest companies, I want to see the scales tipped in favour of small communities and small mills.

I want the province to sanction a pellet plant that delivers pellets to Valemount homes. A pilot project: An experiment in how to find ways for small communities to participate in the forest industry.

It would help undo the damage caused by BC Hydro’s two tiered hydro, the rising rates of electricity and the awful smokey conditions we face here as a result. Residents in Valemount live in the smokiest town in British Columbia, surely we can do something intelligent with the waste from job-creating mills.

The reason we don’t have a pellet plant now is because a commercial plant would likely operate a loss, but as you and I know, the government operates lots of enterprises that don’t bring in money because there’s a wider net benefit. Health care for example.

Here’s an idea, let’s use the money that would have been dedicated to treating cardio & pulmonary related illness due to woodsmoke to underwrite a pellet plant in the near term. We’ll save the mill, clean up the air and ensure there is a healthy industry – and population – into the future.