Driving past the mill yard west of Midway you can’t help but notice the chipping operation that is set up near the old woodlands office building. It is impossible not to see, with a chipper capable of eating three truckloads of stems an hour and throwing the chips over 20 metres into a huge pile in the logyard.
The operation is owned by BC EcoChips, a company based out of Salmo, and had been operating out of the old Weyerhaeuser mill site in OK Falls for the past four years.
But, according to Mike Lynn who is in charge of Fibre Management for Zellstoff Celgar, the chipper was supplying the majority of their product to the Castlegar pulp mill so it was decided to relocate to the Boundary.
“We feel there is a very viable timber supply for that chipper in the Boundary area,” said Lynn, whose job it is to provide logs to the chipper. The wood that feeds the chipper is dry pulp logs and small stunted pine. He said the primary species that are chipped are lodge pole pine, spruce and balsam.
Merchantable saw logs are sorted at the chipper infeed and sold to local mills.
The site manager for BC EcoChips is Rick Beaulieu, who hails from Ymir. He told The Times that forest companies in the southern interior need to clear some of their tenure that is covered with lodge pole pine that are well over 100 years old but no longer growing so they can get the land back into production.
These lodge pole pine stands had grown up because of the aggressive forest fire response program that has not allowed fire to naturally regenerate the forests.
Beaulieu said that after the sites are logged tree-planting crews are brought in.
The program returns non-productive forestland to the working forest inventory, produces jobs and reduces the fuel load for future forest fires.
Lynn says the goal is to get 15 chip loads a day out of the Midway operation. Celgar produces Northern Bleached Softwood Kraft in Castlegar that is sold mainly into the Asian market and used to make tissue products and printing, writing and high-quality paper products.
Lynn said the best thing about the program is it reduces the need to burn huge slash piles.
According to Beaulieu the chipper is currently only working at half capacity with three employees working an eight-hour shift. When operating at full capacity they run a ten-hour shift with five employees and the potential to fill 20 to 23 chip trucks.
He said when the move was made from the OK Falls site to the Boundary most employees elected to keep their paycheque and make the daily commute, so there is currently only one employee from the Boundary.
Celgar requires the chips to have no dirt, bark or limbs. So ideal conditions are when Mother Nature provides a breeze that separates the fines from the chip pile. The chipper itself has three flail chains that remove the bark from the stems before they get to the chipping knives. The unit is powered by a 1,000 horsepower V-12 Cat engine.
Beaulieu said that trucks come in to the site 24 hours a day to get a load – so if locals see activity at the site in the middle of the night is most likely a chip truck driver loading his unit. Security cameras are in place at the site to prevent anyone getting too far with any after-hours criminal enterprise.
He said he is very happy with the new Midway location. The company and crew have been made to feel welcome by the community.
When the current Boundary timber supply review was mentioned Beaulieu said that with the chipper needing 22 logging truckloads every day sourcing logs is always a consideration.
When they operated in OK Falls, BC EcoChips was responsible for procuring their own fibre – now that job is handled by Lynn in Castlegar. Beaulieu said that if anyone has private wood they would like to sell to contact Mike Lynn at Zellstoff Celgar.