POLITICS

Former NewPage Port Hawkesbury paper mill in Nova Scotia sold to Vancouver firm

09/28/2012 04:57 EDT | Updated 11/28/2012 05:12 EST
HALIFAX - The company buying the NewPage Port Hawkesbury paper mill says a sale has been finalized, almost a year after southern Cape Breton was stunned by news that its largest employer was closing.

The $33-million sale of the mill to Pacific West Commercial Corp. officially closed Friday after document-signing sessions in Halifax and Toronto.

The Vancouver company is now the new owner of the mill, which will be renamed Port Hawkesbury Paper.

The facility was shut down last September, throwing 600 people out of work and affecting another 400 forestry workers in a region of the province that already had some of the country's highest unemployment rates.

The restructured firm says it will produce paper early next week, with one machine operating and 250 workers returning initially.

Under a deal struck last Saturday, the Nova Scotia government is providing a $124.5-million aid package over 10 years, on top of the $36.8 million it has spent keeping the mill in a so-called hot idle state.

The figure includes $20 million spent by the province to purchase about 20,840 hectares of land from NewPage Port Hawkesbury.

The deal also includes an amended discount power rate agreement with Nova Scotia Power Inc.

The mill is the utility's largest customer.

Ron Stern, owner of Vancouver-based Pacific West Commercial, said in a news release that Friday marks, "a major milestone for the mill."

"In the past three days more than 150 trucks have arrived to supply the mill," he said. "We plan to have paper on the reel early next week."

Marc Dube, the restructuring manager at the mill, told a local radio station that the company is in for the long haul.

"We're going to make sure that we make this a very successful and sustainable business," he said.

"Hopefully, when we look back on this 10, 15, 20 years from now, people will say, 'Now the mill is stable and an important part of the economy.'"

Premier Darrell Dexter has said the province expects loans provided under the deal to be repaid in full in as little as 12 years.

The province's NDP government first announced the funding package in August. At the time, it included $66.5 million in loans, $40 million of which would have been repayable. The other $26.5 million would be forgiven if certain criteria, such as wage targets, were met.

Earlier this month, the government said it would sweeten the fund after the Canada Revenue Agency rejected a tax arrangement sought by Pacific West and Nova Scotia Power Inc.

Last Saturday — less than a day after the deal appeared to have fallen apart — the government said the previously repayable loan of $40 million would be forgiven if Nova Scotia Power paid the same amount in taxes as a result of energy purchases under a proposed new tariff.

Under the deal, Pacific West Commercial will also be able to incorporate other mills and related assets into the mill, saving taxes in other provinces. Those tax savings will be split with Nova Scotia, with 32 per cent coming as direct cash payments and 18 per cent put back into the mill's productivity in provincially approved investments.

As well, Nova Scotia's profit-sharing cap of $9 million will also be increased to $24 million under the new agreement.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has criticized the deal, saying it is too expensive and too risky for taxpayers.

The opposition Liberals and Conservatives have also criticized the terms of the sale, saying they provide no firm job targets.

Even though the operation is 50 years old, one of its two paper machines was given a major upgrade in recent years. It produces glossy paper for magazines and advertising inserts.

The other machine produced newsprint. It has been shut down due to shrinking demand.

Stern Partners also have interests in the Alberta Newsprint Company in Whitecourt, Alta., and the West Linn Paper Company in West Linn, Ore.