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Community striving for log-home based business

Jean Marie River gets mills rolling in hopes of producing housing packages

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Jean Marie River (Aug 09/02) - Things haven't been so quiet just outside of Jean Marie River lately.

The lathing mill and the radial saw have been humming as logs are processed for demonstration housing and utility shed projects. Since July 5, a crew of five residents has been engaged in safety training and learning how to operate the mills under the guidance of manager/co-ordinator Steve Herrett.

The band is pursuing its goal of making JMR Log Homes Ltd. a viable company. Chief Stanley Sanguez said the community of just over 50 people is going to need $300,000 to $400,000 in start-up funding from the territorial and federal governments and possibly from industry -- the Mackenzie Delta Producers Group has been approached.

"Once we get it going I think it will take off on its own anyways," Sanguez said, adding that a few territorial ministers are "on side."

The project would provide logging and mill operating jobs for eight people, according to Sanguez.

"A lot of our people could rely on that mill because it's a year-round thing," he said.

It would also revive a community tradition of building homes. Decades ago, logs were transported down the Mackenzie River and labourers from Jean Marie River would erect homes in communities as far away as Inuvik, said Sanguez.

"That's our practice and we want to carry it on," he said, adding that with proper marketing, there will be sufficient demand to revitalize the business.

Fort Liard, in need of housing, has already expressed interest in close to 40 log homes, Sanguez noted.

Housing Corporation officials were scheduled to visit Jean Marie River on Tuesday afternoon. Without their approval, which Sanguez is confident he will get, the project will face a rocky future.

Finer points

The community's lathing mill was purchased from Fort St. John, B.C. a few years ago for $90,000, according to band manager Fred Norwegian. The portable sawmill has been in Jean Marie River for many years. A third mill may also be purchased if funding is secured, Sanguez said.

The log homes would be sold based on square footage, Sanguez said.

Herrett noted that the packages would be priced more reasonably than houses imported from outside the NWT.

Although both milled log homes and hand-scribed log homes would be available, those processed by mill are less labour intensive and therefore cheaper, according to Herrett.

Most harvested logs, which must be 10 inches in diameter by Housing Authority standards and aspen (poplar), but spruce will also be cut. Smaller logs can be used to create log cabins or utility sheds. Other value-added aspen products being considered by the band include flooring, log railings, fences, furniture and playground equipment.

The housing packages, to be erected on site for quality control and then disassembled again, can be transported by truck or even by snowmobile and a sled a couple of pieces at a time, Herrett said. It's still unknown whether windows, doors or roof trusses will be included as part of the deal.

"A house can be set up in less than a day on a footing or foundation," Herrett said. "We've had a lot of interest in this product."