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Credit Union backs community-owned sawmill

The Boundary Sawmill in the tiny town of Midway has found a solution.
The Boundary Sawmill in the tiny town of Midway has found its saviour.
 
After phone calls from as far away as New Brunswick and a million-dollar offer from Okanagan businessmen, a much hoped-for loan to keep the mill in the hands of the community came Sunday from the Heritage Credit Union in Rossland, a mere 90-minute drive away.
 
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Stephen Hill, a financial planner and key figure in the struggle to save the mill in Midway, about 50 kilometres east of Osoyoos along Highway 3. Many of the town’s 630 residents are also investors.
 
Earlier this year, Hill rallied members of the community to buy the facility from Montana-based Fox Forest Products. The company shuttered the mill in 2008 during the economic meltdown.
 
The money comes just in time for an Aug. 31 payment to Fox, which could have foreclosed on the mill and left local investors and the municipality out to dry if they were unable to pony up the $1 million.
 
Hill has been in Vancouver for almost two weeks on a mission to raise the capital. On Monday, he said he’s glad he can return home to Rossland.
 
“I’m looking forward to getting my life back. My wife’s getting lonely and my kids are missing me,” he said with a laugh.
 
An article earlier this month in The Province led to national television and magazine publicity for the tiny Boundary Sawmill, drawing the attention of Premier Christy Clark and allowing Hill to speak with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s staff at an event in Abbotsford on Sunday.
 
With the $1-million loan and additional share sales, the mill can pay off Fox and a large sum owed to another creditor.
 
Hill said he’s glad it worked out.
 
“It’s all in the hands of the lawyers and the credit union now,” he said.
 
The mill is being leased to Vaagen Bros. Lumber of Colville, Wash.
 
Hill said workers expect to begin testing equipment in September with a goal of running logs in October.
 
And as long as the mill’s production ramps up and the price of lumber rises, Hill said, he expects the company to have little trouble paying off its new loan.
 
Vaagen Brothers is presently pumping about $10 million in upgrades into the mill, Hill said.
 
By Sean Sullivan, The Province September 1, 2011
ssullivan@theprovince.com
 
twitter.com/seanpatricks
 
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