Two northwestern Ontario First Nation communities are exploring the idea of restoring ferry service to haul wood to a potential forest products operation.
Beginning back in September, Lac Seul and Slate Falls First Nations, with their industry partners in tow, began studying the economics of moving Crown wood from harvesting sites, across the actual lake of Lac Seul, to a possible value-added mill.
Steering the study is the Obishikokaang Resources Corporation (ORC), a forest management company owned and operated by Lac Seul First Nation that oversees the Lac Seul Forest, which lies within their traditional territory.
Bert Hennessey, the corporation's general manager, said the study is an extension of the conversations they frequently have with their industry partners, namely Domtar, Resolute Forest Products and Weyerhaeuser, where often "ideas get kicked around."
The areas of focus are in value-added wood processing, cost reductions in transporting fibre, a merchandizing yard and creating jobs for community members.
The study received $160,000 in federal funding from the Strategic Partnerships Initiative, a program that encourages Aboriginal participation in industries like forestry, mining, energy, agriculture, and fishing.
Domtar committed $5,000, plus in-kind work for this initiative.
Hennessey recently came back from a trip to FP Innovations' head office in Quebec brimming with ideas and motivation.
Resolute Forest Products made arrangements for him to view the federal research agency's wood tech complex and take part in field tours of the value-added plants in the Quebec City area.
"It was perfect for us," he said. "We've got great connections from that trip."
Hennessey said they're examining the economics of making trusses and specialty wood sidings for the local homebuilding market, mentioning Slate Falls and some of the more northerly communities where the cost of building materials are exorbitant.
"Down the road, as it scales up, maybe the market will expand to Kenora, but the idea is to stay regional."
Without getting into specifics, Hennessey said such a value-added mill could be attached to an energy and heating plant that would burn wood waste.
And one of the cheapest ways to haul that Waste--which is usually burned in roadside piles at the harvest sites--would be to a mill located at Lac Seul First Nation is by ferry.
The crescent shape of the actual lake of Lac Seul is 240 kilometres long and splits the forest management unit in half.