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Deal hopefully opens bright new future for wood processing here

Opinion Piece

News that Eastland Community Trust has finalised a joint venture agreement with Wood Engineering Technology Ltd for a high-tech wood processing plant is great for the industry and the whole district. It has some extra significance for those who have been involved for a long time.

The two parties are investing $4.7 million each in the venture, which will turn lower-grade logs into high-value structural timber. ECT also spent $7.4m last year buying the former Prime sawmill site, with Activate Tairawhiti playing a key role in research and negotiations for both transactions.

The new venture is tipped to produce 120 jobs and is exactly what this district needs.

Juken NZ’s Matawhero mill, which opened in 1994, has been the only major wood processing plant in the district for many years. Hikurangi Forest Farms obtained a resource consent for a mill in 2008 which was to open in 2011, but that was shelved and a log grading plant is now being developed on the site.

Adding value to the huge volumes of wood flowing in from the hinterland, rather than exporting logs raw, has been seen for many years as the local economy’s biggest opportunity.

For the industry’s old hands there is a bitter-sweet feeling over the location for this development.

One of the grand old men of the wood industry, the late Dick Twisleton, was the driving force behind the Pacific Pine Products plant which opened on this site in 1985. It was state-of-the-art and got the support of a number of locals, but difficulties with supply saw it go into receivership within a year of its opening.

Since then the site has seen a number of companies come and go. It was leased to London Pacific and then mothballed, taken over by Rayonier and then sold in 2003 to Pine Sawmills Ltd and eventually Ernslaw One.

The mill shut its doors on Christmas Eve 2010 with the loss of 60 jobs. It is a sad story and many people in the industry will be thrilled to see the Pacific Pine/Prime site operating again and hopefully opening up a bright new chapter in the history of the forest industry here.