Feb. 14, 2014 - The cut-to-length logging for pulp done by Peter W. Graham Contracting Ltd. was put on hiatus in mid-2011, and not because those at the family-owned business wanted a vacation.
The local pulp mill – owned by NewPage and located near the Grahams’ home base in Upper Stewiacke, N.S. – went bankrupt, presenting a big challenge for Peter W. (Woodie) and sons Peter C. and Mark Graham.
“We had to look for other work, and it was a shock, but we were able to keep ourselves and all our employees going,” notes Mark. “During that year, we were able to cut logs for mostly one private customer who sold them to a sawmill, with a few other small jobs here and there.” Meanwhile, the pulp mill sat unused for most of a year, but Mark says the government kept it under “hot idle” (heated and with the boilers operational), which helped a great deal to entice another company (Pacific West) to eventually purchase it.
That was one of the major events that affected the Grahams’ business, which was incorporated in 1984 when Woodie got his first pulp contract. The devastating landfall of Hurricane Juan on Sept. 28, 2003, was another.
“The Halifax area was in really bad shape, and we didn’t have power for about a week,” Mark remembers. “It was a category 2 hurricane and we’re not used to that. It was one of the worst to ever hit Nova Scotia.” Juan is blamed for eight deaths, and caused an estimated $100 million in damage, with winds exceeding 150 kilometers an hour that knocked out power to more than 100,000 people in Nova Scotia. It reached P.E.I as well. “There had to be about 12 to 15 years of cutting done in the two years afterwards, so that the wood wouldn’t go to waste,” Mark explains. “We went to work and hardly cut a standing tree for two years. There were a lot of people cutting in our area at that time.”
Once the hurricane damage was cleaned up, it was back to usual for the Grahams, cutting pulp for the pulp plant that’s anywhere from 100 to 200 kilometres away from where their present cut block happens to be located. They mostly log Crown land, with a few of their own leases, keeping 12 employees, including their office manager Cathy Graham, busy. “Once in a while we’ll hire an extra forwarder,” adds Mark.
Before 1984 when he got his first pulp contract, Woodie cut trees for private landowners with three or four employees. As far back as 1978, Peter C. – and Mark a few years later – started working for their father, who at that time had a Massey Ferguson Treever (forwarder). He worked on private lots and also operated a small sawmill that the “boys” helped with. The Grahams have always enjoy working with each other. Son Peter C. was always part of the family logging business, and Mark went out to Western Canada for a while, returning around 1989. “That was when we started mechanical logging,” Mark says. “The pulp contracts have stayed pretty steady over the years. We cut about 40,000 to 50,000 metric tonnes annually.”
Mark is the woods mechanic and foreman. Peter C. manages the shop and the trucking aspect of the company. “Our father is still involved, making daily trips for parts,” says Mark. “My son runs one of our harvesters now, and my brother-in-law runs a feller-buncher.” Even though there can be problems for forestry companies in the province to find and keep operators, the Grahams have never had a problem – partly because many of their staff have been with them for many years. “We don’t have too much trouble with finding employees,” Mark says. “We run single shift and some of our operators have been with us for more than two decades. All of them are from our area and we can pick everyone up at their doors.”
The Grahams own one three-year-old 845 Tigercat feller-buncher and two Tigercat 845 processors, one with a 6000 Log Max processor on it that’s about a year old. They also have a 2001 Tigercat feller-buncher that they converted with a “7000 Extreme” Log Max into a processor about three years ago. “It wasn’t hard at all, and we had Log Max down to help us,” Mark says. “At the time, we bought a new Tigercat carrier and Log Max head, but split them up and put the old buncher head on the carrier, and turned the old feller-buncher into a processor.” The Grahams also run an Ecolog with a 6000 Log Max wheel harvester, which is usually off by itself doing smaller cut blocks, operating single-grip style.
The Grahams switched to Log Max about eight years ago and Mark says the heads have been really good. “They’re pretty simple and run steady,” he says. “We know all of them at the dealer (Rob Moran’s Log Max Forestry in Moncton) and they’ve been very good. Most of them know the woods very well and know what you need.”
Average harvested tree diameter varies from 10 to 30 centimetres. “It changes a lot from one side of the province to the other, and right now we’re into really small trees, hardly averaging 10 cm,” Mark says. “We cut mostly balsam fir, with a bit of white and red spruce and a bit of hardwood.” Their cut block size also ranges widely, from one-week three-hectare jobs to those of around 100 ha. “We’ve had to go further from home over the years, but not necessarily further from mill,” Mark says. “We used to drive about 30 minutes to the site, but right now it’s close to two hours one way with the winter weather.”
Mark believes, however, that they won’t be driving quite so far forever. “The stuff that didn’t blow down with the hurricane should be mature in the next little while,” he says. “We are hoping things will stay stable, and it seems like the new owners of the pulp mill have things well in hand, so that’s very positive.”
The pulp and paper mill previously owned by NewPage was closed from mid-2011 until a dramatic new deal was reached between Pacific West Commercial Corp. (PWCC) and the province of Nova Scotia. The original agreement hinged on PWCC receiving a positive ruling from the Canada Revenue Agency on its taxes. But the rocky negotiations saw both sides walk away from the table after a deadline imposed by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board was not met. Negotiations continued through the night, a deal was reached on Sept. 22, 2012, and now the mill is up and running.
The province invested $36.8 million to keep the mill in hot idle and set up a Forestry Infrastructure Fund to keep people working in the forestry industry while the mill was down. According to a press release the province released at the time, 1,400 jobs relied on the operation.
“Even after it appeared there was no hope, both parties worked through the night and I’m very pleased to say we now have a new agreement that is a better deal for Nova Scotians,” said Darrell Dexter, who was premier at the time.
Now called Port Hawkesbury Paper, it celebrated the first anniversary of its reopening in August 2013 with an open house and a barbeque. The operation has been streamlined and it is making a profit.
The Government of Nova Scotia recently announced further investments in the mill with a test mill to be developed in cooperation with FPInnovations that will extract sugars from wood fibres for a variety of biochemical products.
February 12, 2014 By Treena Hein
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