Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Pulp mill sold to controversial company
James Wood, Saskatchewan News Network; CanWest News Service Published: Saturday, December 16, 2006
One of the world's largest -- and most controversial -- pulp and paper companies has bought the Meadow Lake Pulp Mill, the biggest money-losing government investment in Saskatchewan history, it was revealed Friday.Industry giant Asia Pulp and Paper Co. Ltd. (APP) will pay $38 million for the fixed assets of the mill, which is jointly owned by the provincial government's Investment Saskatchewan arm and Alberta forestry company Millar Western, said the mill's lawyer Conrad Hadubiak.The mill, which employs about 150 people, has been under bankruptcy protection since February and the deal must still be approved by the Court of Queen's Bench in a hearing slated for next week.Under the deal, expected to close in late January, APP has pledged to operate the mill for five years, with penalties if they shut it down before that time."I think this is good news for the town of Meadow Lake. We have a purchaser for the mill who is intending to continue to operate the mill and generate the economic activity and preserve the jobs that have been there over the last 12 years," Hadubiak said.The deal is being done through a Canadian numbered company that is a subsidiary of Indonesia-based Sinar Mas, which owns Asia Pulp and Paper, Hadubiak said.Singapore-based APP, which is already the biggest customer for the pulp produced in Meadow Lake, is estimated to be the sixth-largest paper and paperboard company in the world.However, it has a checkered history.The company went through major financial difficulties in 2001, including a massive default on bank loans and bonds. It has also been a focus for environmental groups, which say the company has been involved in illegal logging of natural forests in China and targeting highly ecologically sensitive forests for conversion into plantations in Sumatra."I would see it as being a bad sign that they are coming into Saskatchewan," said Richard Brooks, head of the forest campaign at Greenpeace Canada."This isn't an issue where they're just slightly bad on the environment. They're one of the worst offenders when it comes to protecting the environment, particularly protecting natural forests and forests that have very high conservation values. They rank very, very low on our list of companies operating in places like Asia."Eric Cline, the minister responsible for Investment Saskatchewan, said he couldn't comment on the company's practices elsewhere in the world."But they're not going to have a bad environmental record in Saskatchewan, I can assure you of that. They, like any mining company or forestry company or other company in Saskatchewan, are going to comply with the laws and regulations of the government of Saskatchewan and we have good environmental laws and regulations. And they know that," he said.Cline said he would have liked to have recouped the more than $900 million lost, but it wasn't possible.