CANADA (From news reports) -- Powell River Mayor Dave Formosa says he was "basically shocked" to learn that the corporation Paper Excellence, which owns the local Catalyst Tis'kwat pulp and paper mill, has listed the property with real estate firm Colliers, after collaborating enthusiastically with the community for months on the search for a climate-friendly successor.
"We're concerned about climate change issues ... about having a good corporate citizen for our community ... about good-paying jobs ... about our tax base," Formosa said adding he wanted the company to have the city's best climate and economic interests at heart.
"I feel the rug was pulled," he said. "This was not in good taste or in good colour."
The mill announced an indefinite curtailment last December, due to ongoing financial losses, and said that around 200 workers would be temporarily laid off until the company decided whether it wanted to continue running the mill in a different capacity or sell it altogether.
Formosa said that after months of discussion between the mill's owners, the province and Renewable Hydrogen Canada, which produces clean fuels like hydrogen and methanol, Paper Excellence led him to believe the hydrogen company "would be a great fit" to take over the property.
He said he expected the mill would return the "goodwill," after the city gave it tax breaks worth millions of dollars over the last 14 years in order to keep it running.
Paper Excellence says listing is part of 'due diligence'
Graham Kissack, the vice-president of corporate communications for Paper Excellence, told CBC the company's decision to list with a real estate firm is "part of our bigger due diligence process" in determining the site's future.
Kissack said that while there have been many discussions with Renewable Hydrogen Canada over the potential purchase of the site, there are no firm agreements.
"If somebody knocked on your door and wanted to buy your house, you probably wouldn't turn around and sell it to the first buyer. You'd engage an expert to help you understand what it's worth and to properly market it," explained Kissack.
Kissack said Colliers was helping to filter extensive interest in the mill, and that if the company ultimately decides to sell, it would hope the new operator would respect the region's environmental values.
Kissack added he doesn't believe the company's working relationship with the city has been damaged, and that the parties can still work together.
Juergen Puetter, the CEO of Renewable Hydrogen Canada, said he's upset at Paper Excellence's move, after "well over a year" of discussions about acquiring a portion or all of the property -- details of which he would not provide due to non-disclosure agreements.
"We thought we had fundamental agreements established, and then things changed," explained Puetter, noting he's convinced his company's proposal to turn the site into a renewable hydrogen and methanol production plant is "by far the best use of the site" for local jobs.
Local owner could save workers, says union rep
Formosa said he agrees.
"The world is [moving] towards hydrogen fuel ... It's a very green, climate-friendly fuel that has a long life," he said.
Marvin Coe, the president of UNIFOR Local 76, which represents hundreds of mill workers at the site, said around 200 temporarily laid-off employees are still waiting to hear their fate.
Coe said he supports the move to sell to Renewable Hydrogen Canada, given its commitment to retaining all laid-off employees and to hiring more of them and said that an overseas buyer might not fully understand the site's importance to the local economy.