The company the City of Port Alberni picked to develop the Somass lands on its waterfront took questions from the media on Tuesday.
Workers were still tearing apart the former Somass Mill, but elsewhere on the site, a tour took place with city council members, First Nation leaders, and members of the company the city picked last month to develop one of its key properties.
The developer says the vision is for this property to be a prime Port Alberni destination.
“Absolutely, but not only a destination for people outside Port Alberni but really an extension of the community. If we do our jobs properly, Port Alberni will see this as theirs,” said John Matthews, president of Matthews West Ltd.
Last month, the city named Matthews West as the developer of the 30-hectare waterfront property it purchased in 2021 for $5.3 million.
The plan is for a mixed-use residential-commercial space with some parkland. It says it would also like to repurpose two mill buildings as commercial spaces.
The company’s president says they’re still learning about the site’s environmental issues, such as contaminated soils.
“We don’t shy away from it, though it’s something we’re going to have to deal with and ensure is dealt with to get certificates of compliance from the Ministry of Environment, and it’s something we’ve dealt with historically,” said Matthews.
The city’s mayor says staff will be consulting residents about their vision for the project, and city council still needs to determine how exactly it will be involved moving forward.
“We’re still in the process on at what point we will sell or is this going to be a partnership to what extent,” said Mayor Sharie Minions.
Both Alberni Valley First Nations say the city has properly consulted them on the project so far and are excited about their future involvement.
“Time will tell where that lies, but I’m hopeful. Matthews West did some work with Squamish First Nation, and we heard great things about the work they do up there, and we’re hopeful we can do great things here too,” said Chief Ken Watts of the Tseshaht First Nation.
Watts says their traditional territory includes the site.
“It should be good for everyone ’cause when the health of Port Alberni is great, and everybody is working, so are our members, as is Tseshaht. Everybody ends up working together,” said Chief Brandy Lauder of the Hupacasath First Nation.
Matthews says it wants to work hand-in-hand on the project with both First Nations.
CHEK News also asked the company about the alternate vision by a group in Port Alberni to have the entire foreshore renaturalized in light of climate change and sea level rise.
“In the perfect world, you can have your cake and eat it too,” said Matthews.
“We do see a big part of the site being naturalized, being green and embracing the park space that can be here…we have to deal with flood construction levels, ensure that we’re building to future sea level rise and that’s something we’ve engaged on with other developments in the past, and there are ways to manage that.”
Minions says the city hopes to complete the project development agreement by late spring and preserve the community’s waterfront access forever.