The Jean Marie River First Nation is asking regulators to scrap their demand for a $25,000 security deposit as it tries to kickstart a logging project.
A land-use permit for the work has been approved but, in issuing that permit, the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board asked for a deposit that the First Nation says is beyond its means.
“Your terms and conditions and a $25,000 security deposit are unrealistic for such a small-scale and benign land use activity as logging,” the First Nation told the regulator by letter on September 22.
The letter said it would be “physically and economically impossible” for logging to move ahead and generate revenue for the community unless the permit’s conditions were relaxed.
The argument comes as many small NWT communities urgently seek economic lifelines in the wake of the Covid-19’s impact, though the application for this permit was filed in February, before the pandemic reached the territory.
If it gets off the ground, the project would see 5,000 cubic metres of timber cut and brought to Jean Marie River’s sawmill over the next five years.
The First Nation anticipates six to 10 new jobs would be created for the 80-person community.
Beyond jobs, Chief Stanley Sanguez said the First Nation’s plan would directly lead to more housing in Jean Marie River.
“I’ve been working with the territorial government about supporting the Jean Marie River sawmill because we wanted to start building … small, affordable homes,” Sanguez told Cabin Radio.
Remaining scraps could be offered to the owners of a pellet mill under construction outside Enterprise, to the east of Jean Marie River on Highway 1.
Lands says deposit should stay
Sanguez said his community had never previously been asked to pay a security deposit to process timber.
“If we keep buying wood and pay that amount, what’s the use of running a business and sawmill?” he asked.
Jen Potten, regulatory coordinator for the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, declined to comment on the specifics of the First Nation’s case as it remains active.
She did, though, say requests for amendments such as that filed by the First Nation last month are “not infrequent.” An online review process will allow individuals, governments, and companies the opportunity to have input before the board issues a decision.
The NWT’s Department of Lands, using that online review system, told the board the requested $25,000 security deposit should remain a condition of the permit.
Approached for comment, the department told Cabin Radio it had nothing further to add.
The First Nation already possesses a timber-cutting licence from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources but requires a land-use permit to proceed with the work.
In its initial application for that permit, the First Nation said it had been milling timber since the 1930s.
Requesting that the need for a deposit be waived, the First Nation argued its plans have a “very low probability of environmental damage, and the significance of any environmental damage is very low.”
Sawmill would help housing
The project will not only create jobs and homes if it proceeds, but will breathe life into Jean Marie River’s sawmill.
A previous sawmill burned down in an accident.
“I’m trying to do anything to get this up and going,” Sanguez said.
According to a 2019 NWT community housing survey, roughly two-thirds of houses in Jean Marie River had at least one significant problem. The community is one of eight in the territory identified as having the largest proportion of homes requiring major repairs.
Less than half of households in Jean Marie River told the survey they were satisfied with their dwelling.
Sanguez says more support for the community’s forestry industry will help residents of Jean Marie River to rectify that situation, much as communities like Colville Lake have begun work on their own log homes.
Beyond that, Sanguez wants to offer the mill’s services to other projects in the territory.
The NWT Housing Corporation is understood to be carrying out a housing needs assessment for Jean Marie River.
Sanguez expects that assessment to indicate which repairs are required and how many homes need to be built.