Tembec passes the baton to Teck

Three huge properties in the Elk Valley have passed between the hands of two of the East Kootenay's biggest companies

Left: Teck has purchased almost 1

Left: Teck has purchased almost 1

Teck has purchased more than 7,000 hectares of land in the Elk Valley from Tembec, purely for conservation purposes.

The two businesses – one, the East Kootenay’s largest employer, and the other, formerly one of the East Kootenay’s largest employers – announced the $19 million sale late Thursday, October 17.

Within the next two months, three parcels of land will be transferred to Teck’s ownership.

The Grave Prairie property is 3,059 hectares in size, located 7.5 kilometres northeast of Sparwood, and, according to environmental group Wildsight, is an important wintering area for elk.

The Alexander Creek parcel, 3,098 hectares in size, is 10 kilometres east of Sparwood, on the north side of Highway 3 next to the Alberta border. The property allows wide-ranging wildlife such as grizzly bear and lynx to move between Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park into the Rocky Mountains.

Finally, Teck purchased 992 hectares known as the Flathead Townsite, in the Upper Flathead Region, 28 kilometres southeast of Sparwood.

“These lands are not amenable to mining,” said Nic Milligan, Teck’s manager of community and aboriginal affairs.

“They were purchased in order to work in cooperation with First Nations, communities and other stakeholders to ensure they are used to protect key wildlife and fish habitat in the Elk Valley and Flathead River Valley now and for the future.”

The sale has been applauded by conservation groups in B.C., Alberta and Montana who are working to protect the Flathead Valley.

“We’re very excited that Teck has made a significant investment to purchase and work towards conserving this important wildlife and fish habitat,” said John Bergenske, Wildsight’s executive director.

In 2010, the B.C. government and Canadian government signed an agreement with the state of Montana and the United States government to protect the Flathead, which is adjacent to the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, a designated World Heritage Site.

In November 2011, the B.C. government passed the Flathead Watershed Conservation Act, which bans mining, oil and gas activity in the Flathead.

Teck said it is invested in maintaining the East Kootenay’s environmental values.

“Our employees live and work in the Kootenays and they want to ensure its vibrant economy and natural splendour is maintained for future generations,” said Milligan. “We strongly believe that by working in partnership it is possible to have both world-class mining and a world-class environment.”

In coming months, Teck will discuss how the properties should be managed with First Nations and other Elk Valley stakeholders.

This is the second sale of East Kootenay lands that Tembec has announced in the past month. On September 30, it revealed the $4.2 million sale of 1,875 hectares west of St. Mary Lake to Nanaimo-based company Jemi Holdings Ltd.

Tembec hopes to sell off 64,500 hectares of land in the East Kootenay, with the goal of making $75 million by the end of 2014.

The remaining properties are in the St. Mary Valley, near Canal Flats, and south of Cranbrook.

Tembec has had a presence in the East Kootenay since 1999 when it purchased the Elko and Canal Flats sawmills from Crestbrook Forest Industries. In November 2011, Tembec sold those mills to Canfor.

This March, Tembec sold its Skookumchuck pulp mill to Vancouver-based Paper Excellence Canada.

The site of Cranbrook’s shuttered planer mill still belongs to Tembec. The mill was shut down in 2010 and destroyed in a fire last year. A sawmill on the same site was closed in 1999.

Tembec also announced this week that its Cranbrook-based vice president of the Forest Products Group, Dennis Rounsville, is retiring this year.

Rounsville began his career with Crestbrook and worked for Tembec in Cranbrook until it sold its East Kootenay mills, then relocating to the company’s headquarters in Quebec.

“Dennis Rounsville has been a valuable member of our executive leadership team, and a significant contributor to Tembec and the forest products industry through his long career, and we wish him a fruitful and happy retirement,” said Tembec’s President and CEO James Lopez.