POINT TUPPER: The owners of the paper mill here are looking back on what they assert has been a very successful run.
Port Hawkesbury Paper LP (PHP) recently celebrated its eighth year of operation under the ownership of Stern Partners and Wayne Nystrom. In 2012, the facility was re-opened by Stern Partners as Port Hawkesbury Paper after a protracted sale process where the future of the region’s largest employer hung in the balance.
On the anniversary, the company issued a press release noting how success and future growth depend on its highly skilled employees’ continual innovation, their focus on using all available assets at the facility and investing in research on value-added projects.
Ron Stern, founder and president of Stern Partners, declared that PHP “has done an exceptional job.” improving products and operations, while exceeding its social commitments.
“Since Stern and Associates took over the facility, they didn’t look at it as just purchasing or taking over a pulp mill, they looked at it as an investment in an infrastructure and in a people,” said Andrew Fedora, PHP’s sustainability and outreach leader.
Fedora credited the “autonomy” granted to the local operation as instrumental in this success.
“We have an independent, Canadian owner, as opposed to previous years under NewPage [Corporation] where you’re reporting to an office, a series of pulp mills and a larger corporation structure,” Fedora told The Reporter. “This gives us an opportunity to make a lot more decisions on-site and to interact more with the staff and managers, and directly with the ownership as well. There’s more of a personal connection, both for the employees and for the owners.”
The Point Tupper facility was first developed in 1962 as a sulfite pulp mill, and expanded into manufacturing newsprint and pulp for the next three decades. But not long after taking over, the then new owners had to make the difficult decision to shut-down PM1.
“If you look at newsprint, globally, those markets are challenging and it was aging infrastructure we had in place,” Fedora explained. “It was very forward-thinking of the new owners to focus on the modern technology that we have.”
In 1998, the Point Tupper site expanded again with an $850 million investment in a state-of-the-art supercalender (SC) paper machine.
Fedora noted that the decision by Stora Enso to invest in thermomechanical pulping (TMP) was vital for the long-term future of the mill. PHP has shipped over 2 million metric tonnes of paper since 2012 and has become a leading world-wide supplier of high-quality SC paper.
“We were certainly blessed with infrastructure that was put in place by Stora when the PM2 supercalendared machine, thermomechanical pulping process was put in place here,” Fedora said. “What’s that done is it’s allowed us to continue to innovate year-over-year and realize greater efficiencies.”
Port Hawkesbury Paper said it has provided over $1.4 billion of provincial expenditures since start-up, with a supply chain that includes over 500 Nova Scotia companies. The company said it has created an estimated 1,000 full-time equivalent jobs, with 325 at the facility and another 700 in spin-off activities. PHP also claims that provincial tax revenue of $24 million per year has been generated by the Point Tupper operation.
The company also said its four-year agreement with Nova Scotia Power (NSP) will provide for a more efficient operation of the provincial grid and multi-million dollar savings for all electricity customers.
On March 26, the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board granted an extension on special electricity rates to PHP. The Extra Large Industrial Active Demand Control is an annually adjusted, below-the-line tariff allowing NSP to schedule the mill’s load, and direct PHP to reduce or increase its consumption across the day and throughout the year, according to system conditions and within agreed parameters.
“Having a health relationship with Nova Scotia Power that something crucial for the survival of this company,” said Fedora. “It’s beneficial to Nova Scotia Power as well. We’re such a large customer. It’s very important that we have the right deal in place and this new program that we have in place seems to be working out for everybody, in terms of our ability to produce paper and in terms of Nova Scotia Power have a better handle on our power use.”
Looking ahead, Fedora said it has plans to find uses for resources like its water treatment facility, heat generated by paper production, as well as the many assets of the Strait of Canso itself. While he said there are no announcements forthcoming, he is “encouraged” by the interest shown so far.
“Our water treatment facility is well over the capacity that we need to run the TMP plant for our paper production. With all that clean water, that presents opportunities to attract other industries to potentially build infrastructure on-site here,” Fedora said. “Also there is the matter of heat that’s generated through the thermomechanical pulping process. We have an open water port with access in terms of shipping. We have rail.”
Fedora acknowledged that global markets are challenged by the effects of COVID-19, but if not for the infrastructure in place and their team, they would be in a much more difficult spot.
“There was a slight drop in wood deliveries in the spring time, that would have been a little bit below seasonal norms,” Fedora explained. “They’re certainly related to COVID. There’s a lot of concern around the safety; how do you handle things and try to get the right protocols in place. We were subject to the same panic that all companies were facing at that time.”
Along with the global pandemic, he pointed out that the closure of Northern Pulp created a change in the market place because contractors shifted their product focus from pulp wood to stud wood
“We’re really, really happy and satisfied that our woodlands team and contractors all pulled together to make sure that everyone was able to keep working through all of this,” Fedora stated. “We’re very impressed with the team that we have here and how they were able to continue working during all of the uncertainty was created by COVID.”
Fedora added that in his seven years with the company, he continues to be “really impressed” with the dedication of the local staff.
“When NewPage did what they did, and left how they left, for this mill to re-open again, I think it was a real eye-opener for a lot of folks,” Fedora added. “It sort of just increased the passion and dedication to making sure it continues to be a going concern and a successful business.”