Harmac's second line will be at full capacity by Monday

Robert Barron, Daily News
Published: Thursday, September 10, 2009

The long-anticipated second production line at the Harmac pulp mill is up and running.

President Levi Sampson said almost all of the 45 extra workers required have been hired and the line is expected to ramp up to full capacity on Monday, which will increase productivity at the mill by 40%.

The second line will bring the mill's output to almost 30,000 tonnes of northern bleached softwood kraft pulp per month.

He said the second line is now only operating at 15% until a new batch digester, used to cool the wood chips in pulp production, is installed over the next few days.

"We've been working hard to get the second line in operation and it's great to see a lot more of our guys back on the job," Sampson said. Plans to begin operating a second line at Harmac have been in place since Nanaimo Forest Products, a four-way partnership that includes Harmac workers and three private partners, bought the 60-year-old mill last summer for $13.2 million. Those plans were put on hold until the markets improved.

With pulp markets in China (where Harmac sells almost half its products) remaining strong, mill officials felt it was time to expand operations. Catalyst Paper also announced that it intends to restart one of its two pulp production lines at its mill in Crofton, hiring back more than 100 workers by early October to take advantage of the buoyant Chinese marketplace.

But industry analysts warn that the increased markets for B.C. pulp in China will not last, which may lead to quick closures of many mills, as well as the fact that more pulp production will cause increased pressure on the already dwindling supply of wood fibre, an integral component of pulp production.

Sampson said he has seen "no indication" that the Chinese demand for pulp will dwindle anytime soon.

"A lot of regions around the world have been hit hard by the economic downturn but China is still bustling and we're not expecting to see a slowdown there at this stage," he said.