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Burns Lake sawmill plans threatened

The future of Burns Lake's gutted sawmill is expected to be announced Tuesday. But those plans could be delayed or derailed by a decision last week by the provincial workplace safety agency that opens the door to possible charges related to the blast that destroyed the Babine Forest Products mill.


December 4, 2012
By John Tenpenny


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“It couldn’t have been worse timing,” B.C. Liberal MLA John Rustad, who helped shape a government package designed to entice the mill’s owners to rebuild told The Globe and Mail.

The board of Hampton Affiliates, owners of the Babine mill, was scheduled to meet Monday, and the company’s CEO Steve Zika is expected to announce the decision in Burns Lake on Tuesday, 11 months after a deadly explosion levelled the town’s main source of employment.

The company announced in September it planned to rebuild, based on a tentative agreement with the province to provide it with fibre for the mill. Mr. Rustad said the final agreements were inked last week to provide enough timber in the long term to give the company a business case for rebuilding.

But the WorkSafe BC decision to forward its findings to Crown counsel casts a shadow over that effort. Those findings address two separate industrial accidents – the Burns Lake explosion in January that killed two people and injured 20, and an explosion at Lakeland Mills in Prince George in April that killed two workers and injured 22.

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The agency is not referring the two cases as matters of criminal negligence, but as alleged violations of the provincial Workers Compensation Act, which could lead to fines and even jail time.

“From a company perspective, I’m sure Hampton was grateful to know [about the WorkSafe BC move] before they make a decision,” Mr. Rustad said. “But the challenge is, where is it going?”

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