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Cascades says Bear Island startup on track for March

KINGSEY FALLS, Quebec (From news reports) -- Cascades announced during its fourth-quarter earnings presentation Feb. 23 that its Bear Island containerboard conversion project is on track and the mill is expected to start up by the end of March.

Originally, the facility was set to start up by the fourth quarter of 2022, but in August, Cascades reported temporary delays to various construction milestones and announced paper production likely would be delayed to the first quarter of 2023.

The company said during its presentation, however, the project still is aligned for a March startup.

"The key components are all being commissioned right now, so we have a full team focused on that," said Charles Malo, president and chief operating officer of Cascades Containerboard Packaging. "We also are working on aligning customers and how we're going to be able to service them. Right now, all of our team on-site is focused on starting up in Q1, and we're very confident at this point that there won't be any further delays."

Cascades, based in Kingsey Falls, Quebec, announced the conversion of its Bear Island paper mill in October 2020. The facility, which is in Ashland, Virginia, will produce lightweight, 100-percent-recycled linerboard and medium and initially was projected to cost around $380 million. The company now reports the total cost of the project at around $515 million to $525 million, with $396 million invested in the project to date (2018-2022).

The company says 100 percent of its production volume is secured for this year and about 75 percent is secured for 2024 and 2025, and it forecasts a production of 235,000 short tons this year.

"Our near-term focus is on delivering an effective and successful startup of our Bear Island facility at the end of March," Malo said. "This mill will bring our containerboard operational platform to a new level ... in terms of our ability to provide our customers with top-quality, lightweight, recycled solutions."

Despite widespread labor issues in the sector, Cascades said the facility is fully staffed for a March startup, and Malo added that Cascades viewed the area as "a good area for labor" when it began considering the project.

"We started a year ago to bring people in in phases and we provided training, so we're well positioned for the startup and everyone is on board," he said.

"We are still missing a few positions, but they're normal in a ramp-up because some of the team members we would bring in towards the end--more in the logistics and shipping areas. All the key players were fully staffed and trained."

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