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Hikurangi Forest Farms falsely accused

 18 March 2016

The claim made this week that local stakeholders in the Gisborne forestry industry have accused Hikurangi Forest Farms of boycotting the Prime Sawmill appears to have little basis, according to an article in The Gisborne Herald. It appears to be part of a dispute between a Swiss-based conservation fund and HFF's parent company, Malaysian-owned Samling Group.

Indeed, the claim was made in a press release issued on behalf of Bruno Manser Fonds, which aims to protect the indigenous people and rain forests in the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

Announcing that a complaint had been lodged with the international Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), it said HFF "has consistently refused to provide timber at market rates to a new wood-processing facility built up by Gisborne District Council, the Eastland Community Trust and Activiate Tairawhiti in a joint effort to revive the local economy".

The problem with the claim is that options for reopening this mill are still under negotiation, and log supply is only at the scoping stage — with HFF being one supplier that will need to be considered, according to the mill's new owner Eastland Community Trust (which was not aware of the complaint).

Another hitch is that if log supply is or becomes an issue, ECT had a good opportunity to nail that down when it bought the mill from a subsidiary of the district's largest forest grower and log exporter Ernslaw One. 

Coincidentally, The Gisborne Herald reported the same day that HFF is building a multimillion-dollar log grading plant to the south of Gisborne, where it had planned to build its own mill, that will eventually create 44 jobs.

Environmental and safety benefits were outlined, as well as the alleviation of log-traffic pressure at Gisborne's port.

With the bulk of HFF forests on the East Coast, there will also be a major jump in log traffic back-and-forth through the city. How this could be alleviated, and the addition of a strong new advocate for Awapuni Road to be the sole thoroughfare for log trucks — just as the council's urban development strategy indicates it might be blocked to heavy traffic — is of more local interest than an unsubstantiated log supply issue.

Downer New Zealand was awarded the site works construction contract and started work in January. "The contract to build the plant, which is also currently under way, was awarded to Awdon Technologies, which is a Gisborne-based company," company general manager Paul Ainsworth said. "Over the last 13 years HFF has been providing logs of various grades to our long-term established customers in Korea, China, Vietnam and to East Coast Lumber in Wairoa.

The new plant is scheduled to start operation in September. "It will initially employ 22 people, moving up to 44 people once it is producing at full capacity," he said.

Mr Ainsworth said the company's goal was to reach "zero harm" in the workplace by 2020.

"We have made significant gains in this area over the last few years with year-over-year reductions in injuries. This has been achieved via changing crew configurations and adding mechanisation, which reduces human exposure to dangerous activities at the logging site." The optimiser was the next important step in Hikurangi Forest Farm zero-harm objective. "Our contractors and employees in the forest will not need to be exposed to working among the logs, loaders and trucks on in-forest landings".

Source: Story by Jeremy Muir, Gisborne Herald