Hampton Affiliates CEO Steve Zika optimistic Babine Forest Products sawmill can be rebuilt, says company is meeting with British Columbia government to work on timber supply issues

Wendy Lisney

Wendy Lisney

Feb 1, 2012 – Lakes District News

BURNS LAKE, British Columbia , February 1, 2012 () – Steve Zika, Hampton Affiliates chief executive officer said to Lakes District News last week that he remains optimistic that Babine Forest Products will be rebuilt.

Hampton Affiliates owns a majority share in the local mill that was devastated by an explosion and fire on Jan. 20, 2012.

Zika said to Lakes District News that the mill is insured for its replacement cost and while Zika said he can't elaborate on the details of the insurance policy, he said that generally the policy covers the cost of rebuilding the mill or alternatively a [cash] payout.

He said the insurance company's assessors arrived in Burns Lake last week, but he added that he is unsure of how much access to the site they have at this point. He said Worksafe B.C. have control over the site.

"The insurance picture is still cloudy at the moment and we have to wait for the assessors to determine insurance values. I am optimistic that the sawmill will be rebuilt, but before a decision can be made we have to wait for the investigation to be complete. Worksafe B.C. is in charge, but it could be weeks or even months [before the investigation is complete]. We are also meeting with the government to work on timber supply issues."

Zika said that Hampton Affiliates are also confident that they will come to a solution with the government over the mill's timber supply issues.

"I am hopeful that we can come to a solution with the government .... there would be no reason to rebuild the sawmill if there is no logs to run through it .... but I am remaining optimistic that we will be able to rebuild."

Lakes District News asked Zika how Hampton Affiliates was planning on dealing with the challenges of future timber supply, before the tragedy occurred.

He said the company had been in discussions with the government about the future of the mill for several years. Zika said, "It is important to be proactive."

The company was hoping that the government would make adjustments to the amount of timber that would be available in the future to allow them to continue their operations in the local area.

He said it depends on who you talk to as to when the local timber supply would diminish, but said he estimates running into timber supply problems in the next three to seven years.

"Today there is plenty of logs as we try to get ahead of the mountain pine beetle ... but down the road the logs will be too dead to use for lumber.”

“Yes, it was going to be a challenge, but it was three to seven years out that there wasn't going to be enough timber ....it is one thing to have an existing mill with employees, we could have worked through that situation, but it is another thing to have lost the mill and rebuild.,” he said.

“It would takes us 15 years to pay back that investment so we have to make sure that the timber supply is there to be able to do that."

Zika also commented on the Dec. 28, 2011 Workplace BC report [as reported on page 9 of this week's edition of the Lakes District News].

He said while he has not seen the report himself he is aware that Workplace BC officials visited the site. He said the visit was a regular scheduled visit and added that work dust is typical for job sites along Hwy. 16 and for sawmills.

He said Hampton Affiliates had been working on updating equipment to resolve work place dust issues for the past two years at the mill.

He said that new fans and misters had been put in place before the inspection and added that after the report was issued, [which noted high dust levels in the sawmill's basement] further efforts were being made to improve the working conditions for employees. "We still needed to do more and were in the process of responding to the report when the accident happened."

He said that the report was to do with the employee working environment, rather than deal with site safety issues.

Zika said maintenance at the mill was an everyday and ongoing occurrence. "Maintenance is a major part of any sawmill operation. We had a safety committee ... maintenance is an extensive part of all of Hampton's mills."

Zika praised the community of Burns Lake for coming together over the past week. He said, "The community, Babine Forest Products families, the union, local businesses, municipal government and the province have all shown their support. It is incredible ... we see how much people care for each other in Burns Lake."

Zika said it is hard to imagine the magnitude of the accident.

"Hampton Affiliates are sorry the accident happened."

Zika said Hampton Affiliates have recently made a significant donation to the Burns Lake Tragedy Fund to help employees, but added that he did not want to make the amount of money they donated public.

"It is not about that ... the amount is not the focus for us,” He said.

“I know that money is not all it is going to take ... but it is a start," he added.

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