On Wednesday the first roll of supercalendered paper, destined for the magazine and catalogue market, rolled off the production line at Port Hawkesbury Paper. The mill, formerly operated by NewPage Port Hawkesbury, resumed production on the weekend after being idled since September 2011.
Restructuring manager Marc Dube said the paper machine was able to run for about 12 hours without a paper break. Once it ramps up to full production, the machine, which holds speed records and is the fastest machine of its kind in North America, will be able run for more than 24 hours straight without a paper break.
“It’s been running very well. In fact, the whole mill has been running spectacularly. We’re very happy,” Dube said. “The employees here have been very, very good, they’re really anxious to be back, happy to be back, and they’re really committed to making this work, so it’s been a very enjoyable place to be working. It’s been better than we could have expected.”
By mid-afternoon, the machine had likely produced more than 500 tonnes of paper, he said.
The $33-million sale of the mill to Pacific West Commercial Corp. was finalized Friday. The mill had been in creditor protection. The new owners have recalled about 260 employees to date. It will employ 330 at full production.
Customers are awaiting the paper and the mill’s order book is filling up, Dube said. Paper from the mill could be on presses as early as Monday.
Initially, the hope had been that the first paper could have been produced early Monday.
“We had a number of different smaller issues and we had issues with some air compressors, some plugging of lines and things that slowed us up a bit,” Dube said.
The mill is now being run on a five-shift schedule, rather than the four-shift roster that was previously used. As a result, according to the company’s website, employees work nine per cent fewer hours and earn six per cent less annual income than under the previous arrangement.
“They all recognize that one of the reasons behind putting the five-shift in is that we’d have more people called back to work,” Dube said.
About 35 workers have decided not to come back to work at the mill, so those jobs will be offered to other former NewPage employees under the recall process that has been set out, Dube said.
Pacific West has no plans to restart the mill’s newsprint line.
The mill reopened after a year-long sales process that saw workers agree to concessions, approval of a discounted power rate and a financial aid package from the province.