This is the way it is supposed to work: Fort St. John is the home of oil and gas, Dawson Creek is all about farming, Chetwynd is logging and Tumbler Ridge? Well, Tumbler Ridge is supposed to be mining, but with no active mines, folks are looking to different industries.
One of the latest forays into forestry comes in the form of a new mill in the heavy industrial park. A joint venture between Dan and Roxanne Gale, and Ken and Maxine Chaisson, the mill has been operational since November 2003. ?We started very small, with old equipment,? says Ken. ?We went five months without a loader.? Instead, he says, neighbour Ron Colledge would come and load for them. ?Ron has been a great help,? says Ken.
Dan says there are lots of reasons for starting up this mill. Both his and Ken?s dads owned mills, so this sort of thing is in their blood. More importantly, though, was the chance to be their own bosses.
Future plans include expansion, although they are limited by the amount of adjacent property. They also hope to get a small office built on-site (currently, they?ve just been using the cab of the truck), and get the mill enclosed, so they are not so exposed to the elements. ?Eventually, we hope to get to a point where we can hire some other people,? says Ken.
There has also been some talk about getting a kiln to dry the wood, but that?s probably not going to happen, at least, not for a while. Not only are there space issues, and a high cost, there are issues with keeping it running. ?There?s a huge demand. If we had the wood, it wouldn?t be a problem,? says Dan.
The problem is they don?t have the wood. Or at least, not enough wood. While they do get some wood from the larger companies (?That load of spruce is from Canfor?, says Ken, gesturing at a small pile of raw logs), the big companies bring most of their wood back to Chetwynd. Instead, the mill depends on salvage wood, or more marginal wood that the big companies don?t want.
In a perfect world, they would have access to salvage timber after a logging company has logged a cutblock. But any wood that Dan and Ken would take would come out of the bigger company?s allowable cut, something that the companies are not at all interested in. So the two have to scrape together wood from wherever they can get it.
Most of the work done at the mill is for rig mats for the oil and gas industry, though not all of it. ?Today we?re custom milling this for a contractor out of Dawson,? says Ken. ?He brought his own wood.?
With an uphill struggle just to get wood to mill, is it worth it? ?Some days,? says Dan. ?But everything is tough in life. There are days when everybody asks themselves why bother? But you gotta go on.?