VANCOUVER, British Columbia, April 30, 2010 – Fortress Paper Ltd. (“Fortress Paper” or the “Corporation”), a leading producer of security and specialty papers, is pleased to announce the successful completion of its acquisition of the assets of a northern bleached hardwood kraft (“NBHK”) manufacturing facility located in Thurso, Quebec (the “Thurso Mill”) from Fraser Papers Inc. (“Fraser”) for net proceeds of approximately $1.2 million. With this successful acquisition, Fortress Paper will commence the conversion of the Thurso Mill into a world class, low cost, specialty cellulose (dissolving pulp) operation. Concurrently, Fortress Paper intends to build a biomass-based cogeneration plant at the Thurso Mill which will produce green electricity resulting in material net energy savings (income).
Chad Wasilenkoff, CEO of Fortress Paper, states, “We are pleased to announce the transaction has closed. We intend to move aggressively to ramp up operations at the Thurso Mill and anticipate production of NBHK to commence in mid June of this year during the interim period while we immediately begin the conversion of the Thurso Mill into a dissolving pulp operation. We are finalizing the terms of employment with several key individuals with extensive experience in dissolving pulp conversions and should be able to provide more details on this matter in the coming weeks. This acquisition will diversify our specialty product mix and we believe will provide a significant financial contribution to Fortress’ growth aspirations.”
The acquisition of the Thurso Mill has been completed through its wholly-owned subsidiary Fortress Specialty Cellulose Inc. (“Fortress Specialty”). The Corporation intends to incur capital expenditures of approximately $153 million to convert the non‑operating NBHK mill into a high quality specialty cellulose mill and to construct a new cogeneration facility.
Concurrent with the completion of the acquisition the Company has finalized $102.4 million project financing with Investissement Québec (“IQ”) and a $15 million convertible debenture (the “Debenture”) with Solidarity Fund QFL. Additionally, included in the assets being purchased is approximately $9.9 million in credits (black liquor credits) granted under the Canadian government’s Pulp and Paper Green Transformation Program. Fortress Paper also intends to apply for approximately $15.2 million in federal credits under the Green Infrastructure Fund program of the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure & Communities relating to the planned cogeneration project.
New collective agreements have been negotiated with all three unions which will be in effect until 2016. The defined benefit pension plan which existed under the previous collective agreements has been replaced with a defined contribution pension plan, eliminating the risk of future unfunded pension liabilities. Under these new agreements, Fortress will not be assuming any of the previous pension liabilities. Management is confident that these agreements will ensure a positive partnership with the union and a stable, efficient cost structure through the transition into dissolving pulp.
Fortress Paper has completed a loan agreement whereby Investissement Québec has agreed to provide up to $102.4 million to Fortress Specialty to support the proposed business plan in respect of the Thurso Mill. The loan is secured by the capital assets of Fortress Specialty and has a term of 10 years. Interest will be calculated at a fixed rate of 5.0% per annum for the first five years, followed by a rate based on the cost of IQ’s funds plus 2.0% for the remaining five years, up to a maximum of 5.5% per annum.
Fortress Paper has also issued a $15 million convertible debenture (the “Debenture”) to Solidarity Fund QFL. The convertible debt matures in five years with an interest rate of 7% per annum. The Debenture is convertible, in whole or in part, at the option of Solidarity Fund QFL into common shares of Fortress Paper at any time after closing of the debenture at a conversion price equal to $20.00.
The Solidarity Fund QFL is a development capital company that channels the savings of Québec residents into investments in all sectors of the economy to help create and maintain jobs and to further Québec’s economic growth. The Fund is a partner, either directly or through its network members, in approximately 2,000 companies.
The specialty cellulose mill is planned to have an annual production capacity of more than 200,000 air dried metric tonnes and is expected to be completed in mid-2011. In entering into the specialty cellulose sector, Fortress Specialty will focus on producing dissolving grade cellulose for the textile industry, primarily targeting viscose fibre (rayon) products which have shown strong growth of approximately 10% in China and 7% worldwide over the past five years. Rayon is a technically evolved and versatile fibre with many advantages, particularly in the warmer and higher growth regions of the world.
Fortress Paper also plans to construct an approximately 25 megawatt cogeneration facility to service a net 18.8 megawatt power supply agreement over a 15 year term. The location of the cogeneration facility provides it with access to on‑site generation of biomass and an extensive local network of chip and other biomass suppliers. The cogeneration facility is expected to be supplying electricity in the fourth quarter of 2012.