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Sawmill continues to cost corporation

Jack Danylchuk
Northern News Services

Fort Resolution (May 28/01) - James Balsille remembers the NWT Development Corp. and the end of Great Slave Lake Forest Products with anger and bitterness.

"They came in here and took a mill that was running two shifts of 20 men; when they were done, there was nothing," said Balsille, who started with the mill when it opened in 1975.

The respected elder in Fort Resolution was 63 in 1998 when the latest mill manager brought in by the Development Corp. "told me I was too old" and fired him.

The labour board, his MLA Don Morin, and the Development Corp. brushed aside Balsille's protests.

"They eventually offered me $7,000; I didn't want to fight in court, so I took it," he said.

Balsille took some satisfaction when the mill "hired three men to do my job; three men to do the work of a 63-year-old man who they said was too old."

His satisfaction was short-lived. Within a year, the corporation closed the mill and sold the assets.

The economic blow is still felt in the community of 700.

"Most of the men have found work in the diamond mines, but that takes them out of the community," said Don Balsille, a former mill worker and director of the company that ran it before the corporation bought it in 1993.

The younger Balsille said the people of Fort Resolution must shoulder some of the blame for the death of the mill.

"They took advantage wherever they could; there was gouging on logging contracts and road building - they shot themselves in the foot,' he said.

The mill had run off an on for almost 20 years on government subsidies and was the hamlet's main employer.The corporation bought the mill in 1993 from Nuni (Ye) Forest Products Ltd. for $260,196.

"It was a government make-work project that ran on antiquated, inefficient equipment," said Dev. Corp. president Fred Koe. "We paid a good premium to maintain the labour force, but some people viewed it almost as a right that the government should provide money."

In six years, it sank more than $5 million in subsidies into the mill. Sales of forest products brought in $3 million. In 1999, the mill piled up a $1 million loss.

"One million to maintain 20 jobs," Koe said. "We decided to shut it down. For that money we could do a lot better in another business."

The corporation closed the doors and sold off the assets for $300,000.

But it is still not free of the mill. This spring it called for tenders to clear the former site and remove any trace or reminder of the mill that became a money pit for tax dollars.

NWT Development Corporation Subsidiaries (2001):

Subsidiaries (1998/99):