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Old Time Trains

The Eagle Flies
By Harold Hatheway
Copyright 1996.

At the site of an abandoned chip mill in Miramichi, NB, Eagle Forest Products turns the key on a new $100 million OSB plant.

When Eagle Forest Products' state-of-the-art OSB mill beside New Brunswick's Miramichi River began to roll on August 17,1996, the target was to produce about 3,500 m3 of board a month, with probably half of that projected to go into the scrap heap during the difficult months of startup.

Astoundingly, quality OSB has been rolling off the line since day one at double the projected quantity, and with not enough scrap to mention.

These impressive results are undoubtedly a reflection of the modern structure, topline equipment and a work force who are openly proud of their new plant and of what has been achieved in getting it on stream. A couple of years ago what was here instead was an abandoned, dilapidated chipboard mill, filled with rusting, archaic equipment.

Eagle Forest Products was just a gleam in John Godfrey's eye in 1991, when a Noranda subsidiary closed the old plant, leaving some 150 mill workers and 300 loggers out of work, and the provincial government as the reluctant owner of a derelict mill. Godfrey, a typically reserved New Englander, explains the trials and tribulations of taking an idea through to construction of a $100 million plant as "typical. "

Representing the fifth generation in timberland and sawmill ownership, Godfrey is a graduate of Harvard Business School, has already developed and run two OBS mills; the first in Maine in 1980, and the second, Highland Forest Products LLC in Scotland in 1982. For this project, Godfrey spent two years assembling partners and banks to provide the financing, with "not a nickel of government money," he notes pointedly. He did take the government up on its offer of the old mill and site for $1, on condition, of course, that a new plant take its place.

Partners in the Eagle project include MacMillan Bloedel Ltd., Temple Inland Forest Products, Stone and Webster construction and Eagle Trust, a group of native funding sources brought together by Chief Augustine, a prominent NB native leader. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is a major financial source.

Godfrey makes the remarkably trouble-free startup sound simple but it involved months of workforce interviews, selection and training, engineering and construction details, and equipment selection. Clearly, his background in building the two earlier mills helped immensely.

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