Employee company takes over at Harmac
Workers, managers and other partners meet Supreme Court deadline

Robert Barron, Canwest News Service
Published: Saturday, August 30, 2008

NANAIMO -- The four partner groups that make up Nanaimo Forest Products became the proud new owners of the Harmac pulp mill yesterday afternoon.

NFP, consisting of a group of Harmac's employees and managers, Pioneer Log Homes, Totzauer Holdings and the Sampson Group, successfully met the Supreme Court-ordered deadline to buy the mill for $13.2 million.

Plans are for almost 200 Harmac workers to return to work on one line by late September or early October with other employees returning to work over time as the mill's operations expand.

A group of obviously overjoyed workers, along with representatives from NFP's other partners, gathered at the mill's gate before the handover was official and took part in a cereomny to raise the Harmac flag. "We like the product so much, we bought the company," said worker Doug Narver to the amusement of his fellow workers.

Harmac shut down in May after its former owner, Pope & Talbot, went bankrupt, putting 530 employees out of work.

Gerry Tellier, president of the Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada, Local 8, which represents Harmac's workers (who have each agreed to invest $25,000 toward the mill purchase), said the days immediately following the mill's closure were dark ones for the employees. "Not many mills that go down come back so many felt there was no hope for a revival," he said as workers poured through the gate yesterday. "It was like a death in the family. However, many of us said at the time that we're not done yet and now here we are. I'm not used to getting emotionally excited about things but I have to say that I'm feeling pretty pumped today. Our accomplishment feels good."

Levi Sampson, a spokesman for the Sampson Group, now Harmac's marketing manager, said he's happy that NFP has finally acquired the mill after many months of work.

"We're celebrating today but now the real work begins and I'm guessing we'll all be working 18 hours a day to make the mill a success," he said while opening champagne bottles after the flag-raising ceremony. "Some of these guys worked their whole lives at the mill and it's a special thing for me to see them so happy today. The Harmac story has gone national because it's a real story about people and efforts to keep jobs in B.C. and that resonates with people everywhere."

Sampson said he envisions many opportunities for Harmac, including biofuels, over time, but the first task is to get the mill up and running.

Bryan Reid, president of Williams Lake-based Pioneer Log Homes, said the company's first interest in Harmac was in its parts as part of a possible liquidation process, but the company decided to join NFP after meeting Harmac's workers and managers.

"They're the best in the world in what they do and we felt they didn't need to be unemployed," Reid said. "We also want to show that running successful forestry operations is still possible in B.C. and we're confident Harmac will be successful."

Jonathon Lampman, a lawyer from Nanaimo's Ramsay Lampman Rhodes law firm, which helped NFP ink their deal with the courts and Harmac's receiver, PricewaterhouseCoopers, said preparing the company's bid was the most unique file I have worked on in my 30 years as a lawyer."

"I've never seen such co-operation among everyone involved to close this deal and they made it happen in ways I've never seen before," he said. "There were many times during the difficult process when I wanted to put down my tools and walk away but we made the case for the deal and the judge [Donald Brenner] believed and had faith in us."

Millwright James Slotte, Harmac's most senior employee with 47 years at the mill, was given the honour of raising the Harmac flag under the mill's new ownership on yesterday.

He said it's a "great feeling" to know that the mill will reopen. Lots of guys with lots of experience at the mill are coming back and we can't wait to get back to work," Slotte said.