BRITISH COLUMBIA

Lakeland Mills Sawmill: Reconstruction To Begin After Explosion Killed Two

07/19/2013 02:20 EDT | Updated 09/18/2013 05:12 EDT
PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. - Reconstruction of a sawmill that was destroyed in a fiery blast in Prince George, B.C., will mean a fresh start for a community that dealt with the tragic deaths of two workers, says the president of the company behind the project.

Greg Stewart, who heads Sinclar Group Forest Products, said the workers' union of Lakeland Mills, a division of the company, the City of Prince George and representatives for employees will attend a groundbreaking ceremony on Monday, when details of the rebuild plan will be disclosed before construction starts.

The Lakeland Mills sawmill was destroyed after a blast and fire in April 2012, when workers Glenn Roche and Alan Little were killed, 24 people were injured and 150 employees were put out of work.

"The decision to rebuild the mill wasn't solely a financial decision," Stewart said Friday. "We have a strong commitment back to this community. It's a third-generation company. We have three generations of employees that have been working on site."

Stewart said the mill could be in full operation by late September 2014, and 100 workers are expected to be hired to produce stud lumber, which is used in wall construction for new homes.

"From our perspective it's been a long year, it's been a very tough year as all can imagine," Stewart said. "I think we're just really appreciative of the fact that we can get to this point where we're breaking ground and we can celebrate that and do that with the community because the community's been such a huge support to us through this whole process."

In April, the community gathered to mark the first anniversary of the explosion and to remember employees who risked their lives to help their co-workers get out of the mill.

Lakeland Mills began operations in Prince George in 1962, and the original mill was built in the 1980s.

The blast followed a fire at the Babine Forests Products mill in Burns Lake just three months earlier, when two workers were killed and 19 others were hurt. That mill is also expected to be rebuilt.

Last November, WorkSafeBC asked the Crown for a review of whether the companies or individuals connected to both mills could be charged for any violations of the Workers Compensation Act.

Both Lakeland Mills and Hampton Affiliates, which operates the Burns Lake sawmill, issued statements expressing concern about the Crown's consideration of legal action.

WorkSafeBC has said wood dust may have been the fuel for both explosions and that reports released last May, August and October emphasized the vigorous management of the dust.

The B.C. Safety Authority, which oversees the safe installation and operation of equipment and administers the province's Safety Standards Act, made nine recommendations about wood dust in a report released in January.

They include recommending that wood dust be classified as combustible.

RCMP investigators have ruled out criminal negligence in both explosions.