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Council to 'stand up for citizens'

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Fort Frances council has a duty to defend the interests of its constituents and so has decided after all to consider a proposed resolution regarding the bidding process for the possible sale of the local mill.

In an official statement issued by the Town of Fort Frances this morning, it indicated council will consider the resolution at a special meeting set for Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. at the Civic Centre.

“Our council has a duty to defend the interests of our constituents and their rights over local, publicly-owned resources,” the statement reads.

“We are inviting the public and the media to attend this meeting, where deputations will be heard from various community, labour, and indigenous stakeholders in support of maintaining a stable, equitable wood supply for our community.”

As reported earlier this week, a resolution for consideration by council was prepared in response to correspondence received by the town from Resolute Forest Products on Feb. 8.

The proposed resolution was introduced as a non-agenda item during council's meeting this past Monday night.

In its Feb. 8 letter, Resolute informed council that it had “signed a backstop agreement to transfer the Fort Frances mill property to a community redeveloper.”

“In our view, this letter disclosed Resolute's intention to sell its shuttered Fort Frances paper mill to a buyer that will demolish it—eliminating a key economic asset for our community,” the statement says.

“While Resolute has also indicated that it is running a competitive bidding process, this letter does not indicate that that process is for the sale of the mill as a whole, but rather that it is 'a parallel process whereby other interested parties can prepare binding offers for the assets,'” it notes.

“We question whether the bidding process prevents a party with plans to reopen the facility from assessing the business viability of operating the mill and submitting a bid for that purpose.”

The statement adds the town “has seen a copy of Resolute's non-disclosure agreement for interested parties, which requires that they refrain from communicating with government officials—which is necessary for any party in need of access to a wood supply from the province to operate the mill.”

The initial proposed resolution asserted this community's insistence on the use of local forest resources for local economic benefit—a priority of the forest management system and the licence by which Resolute enjoys access to publicly-owned wood in the Crossroute Forest.

The Sustainable Forest License (SFL) held by Resolute indicates that wood harvested from the Crossroute is meant—first and foremost—to supply the Fort Frances mill. Resolute closed the Fort Frances mill more than five years ago, but has continued to take wood from our forest to support its other operations, the town asserts in the statement.

“With the future of the mill now clearly at stake, there are legitimate concerns that Resolute's intention is to use the disposition of the mill to consolidate its control over local forests by eliminating its Fort Frances facility,” the statement contends.

“If so, we believe that this is an abuse of the rights conferred under the SFL, and that the province must intervene to ensure that the public's interest in our forest is not eroded.”

But while council was meeting during the in-camera portion of Monday's committee of the whole meeting, Resolute's lawyers issued a letter to council threatening legal action, the town said.

Resolute alleged the resolution contained “false, misleading, and defamatory statements concerning Resolute,” the town's statement says.

“Resolute's letter did not identify the alleged defamatory statements in our resolution,” it notes.

“We remain of the view that the proposed resolution is well within the acceptable bounds of municipal government expression,” the statement adds.

“The proposed resolution also reflects our duty to stand up for our citizens. This is the job of council,” it stresses.

“Resolute's legal threat is a classic SLAPP tactic [Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation] intended to intimidate our community into silence about Resolute's private transaction that could drastically affect the well-being of our community, its forest resources, and our economic capacity,” the town contends.

The town concluded it will “continue to call on the provincial government to take explicit, public action to ensure that local forests create local jobs and economic prosperity, and that Fort Frances is always open for business.”

As reported in yesterday's Daily Bulletin, the resolution states the town should demand that Resolute:

  • allow all bidders on the mill the ability to engage in dialogue with government prior to submitting their bid so that they can reasonably prepare for a successful acquisition of the mill;
  • allow sufficient time for bids on the mill to be prepared and submitted;
  • inform the Town of Fort Frances, in confidence, of the identity of bidders so that the town may engage in discussions with them and provide information that is responsive to the bidders' plans for the mill properties; and
  • comply with the terms of the SFL and engage in a process to provide access to wood fibre in the Crossroute Forest, reflecting such intention in any bid or tender package issued in respect of the sale of the mill.

The resolution goes on to state the Town of Fort Frances calls on the premier of Ontario and the minister of natural resources and forestry to use all measures within their authority:

  • to ensure the mill is open for business;
  • to provide access to fibre in the Crossroute [Forest] to potential operators of the mill, in keeping with the text of the SFL; and
  • to support outcomes for the mill which create jobs and prosperity in Fort Frances and surrounding municipalities and First Nations.
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