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Pellets are made out of compacted sawdust, wood chips or other wood material and look something like rabbit food. Many people consider them to be a renewable alternative to coal. (The Associated Press/Pat Wellenbach) An N.W.T. MLA is raising alarm over environmental impacts that could stem from a new pellet mill planned for Enterprise, N.W.T.

"Aurora Wood Pellets’ operation in Enterprise is expected to create many jobs at its mills and jobs for wood cutters from two First Nation communities. This is a very good thing," said Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson in a statement to the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly on Feb. 26.

"What is much less clear is whether cutting virgin forest in the N.W.T and then burning it as wood pellets is an environmentally sound thing to do."

The Aurora Wood Pellets project is in the early stages of construction, with harvesting contracts planned for finalization in mid-April, according to the company’s owner, Brad Mapes.

Thompson said he is a supporter of the mill for its potential economic benefits, but takes issue with the potential impact of turning slow-growing living trees into pellets. Usually, wood pellet mills use "black wood" or wood that has been dried by forest fire. A pellet mill planned for Enterprise, N.W.T. will use a mix of dry wood and wood from living trees. In this photo, a fire burns near Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T. last summer. (Submitted by Melanie Blake) Mix of dry and life wood planned for Enterprise

Generally, wood pellets are made from material that would otherwise be wasted, according to the Wood Pellet Association of Canada website.

"This includes sawmill residues — sawdust, planer shavings, and sometimes even a little bark — and diseased and insect-killed trees and logging waste that sawmills have left behind in the forest after logging."

According to Mapes, Aurora Wood Pellets will rely on a mix of "black wood," which has been burned in forest fires, and "green wood", or living trees. Turning green wood into pellets requires heating it to remove nearly all the moisture, an energy-intensive process in and of itself.

With this in mind, Thompson asked Environment and Natural Resources Minister Robert C. McLeod whether the territorial government has calculated how much greenhouse gas emissions would be saved by using a mix of dry and green wood.

"The report looking at greenhouse gas savings was based on utlizing green timber," answered McLeod. New forestry permits

Two companies, Timberworks and Digaa, have received timber harvesting permits from the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board. Neither had permits previously, according to the board’s online registry, and the pellet mill is cited in documents as being the reason for the new harvests.

Management plans attached to those permits show that more than 10 square kilometres are projected to be harvested each year near Fort Providence; near Fort Resolution, the permits do not specify how much land area is being harvested, but the permitted volumes are similar.

One document says in total, 33 square kilometres were harvested near Fort Resolution between 1940 and 2005.

As of 2016, the territorial government did not require harvesters pay to replant trees, hoping instead for natural forest regeneration. Calls to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to clarify current policies were not answered by deadline Friday.

"I just hope the government’s not trying to use this as a greenhouse credit thing," Thompson told CBC, referring to the coming carbon tax, which will penalize carbon-intensive forms of heating and energy.

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