By Tom Peters

Irving Pulp & Paper will invest over $500 million to modernize and expand its New Brunswick operations. The projects are expected to create over 100 full-time new mill jobs, several hundred direct and indirect construction jobs, plus over 100 new direct and indirect woodlands jobs. Irving’s announcement follows a recent announcement by the New Brunswick government to increase by 21 per cent the amount of softwood that can be harvested by forest companies on Crown land.

Irving’s Mary Keith said Irving is investing to stay competitive. Although housing construction in the U.S., a prime market for Irving exports, has not yet recovered to pre-recession levels, “The bigger issue is what happens if we don’t invest and modernize to stay globally competitive. This has been the challenge for several mills in the region that have closed,” she said in an email. “New Brunswick has seen 54 mills close between 2003 and 2013 which the New Brunswick Forest Products Association indicates has cost 8,100 jobs (direct and indirect) and $440 million in lost wages,” she said.

Irving ships pulp and paper products to Europe, Middle East and South America. The largest investment of $450 million will be at the Saint John pulp and paper mill. Grand Lake Timber in Chipman will get $23 million and the White Pine Centre of Excellence in Doaktown will receive $15 million.

The investment in the Saint John facility is the largest investment in a pulp mill in Canada since 1983, Irving said in a statement. The Saint John project will be completed in two phases. The first phase, starting this spring, will see $198 million spent over a two-year period to build a new chip screening and handling system, as well as a new pulp digester which cooks wood chips. The new digester will replace the existing fourteen digesters on site, and reduce noise and air emissions.

The second phase, to begin with engineering work this coming fall, will be a $250 million investment for the installation of a new pulp dryer to replace the existing three dryers. This phase will take about thirty months with the construction starting date dependent on market conditions, Irving said.

The Chipman project will include a new studwood production line, log debarker, mill in-feed, trimmer and log sorting equipment. Construction will start this fall.

“This significant capital investment in Grand Lake Timber will not only grow short-term construction jobs and long-term permanent jobs in the sawmill and woodlands, but will also support 54 businesses in Chipman-Minto alone,” Chipman Mayor Edward Farris said in a statement.

In Doaktown, a new sawmill will be built with construction to start in the spring of 2015. The new mill is expected to increase lumber production by 10 per cent.

Irving’s Keith said it is too early in the process to say how much these expansions will boost Irving’s overall forestry products production. In 2013 Irving exported approximately 72,000 tonnes of pulp and paper through the Port of Saint John which represented about 80% to 90% of Irving’s N.B. forest products. “We would produce all the lumber for all houses built in one year in N.B. in twelve days,” Keith said. She added that there is no government money involved in any of these new investments. Irving will be in northern N.B. and Sussex before the end of this month to make additional announcements.