The Huu-ay-aht First Nation says it’s optimistic members of a working group will be able to come up with a new future for the closed Alberni Pacific Division mill.
Western Forest Products which owns the mill announced Friday it will never reopen the mill in its current configuration leaving the 90 people who worked here worried.
“Obviously it’s like anything. They want to know what their future is and if there is no future let them know,” said Glen Cheetham, fourth vice-president of United Steelworkers 1-1937, who has lived in Port Alberni for decades.
The mill has been shut down since mid-October and it’s seen a lot of downtime during the past two years. Last year, Western, Tsawak-qin Forestry and Huu-ay-aht First Nations commissioned a report to examine long-term primary manufacturing options for the APD mill. The report concluded the options are very limited.
“This is a bit of a blow to see that this mill could ultimately be permanently closed and it’s the last thing Port Alberni needs to see is another permanent closure. It has impacts throughout the community including the pulp mill which feeds off that mill,” said Butler.
The company has struck a working group which includes the union and the Huu-ay-aht First Nation that partially owns Tree Farm Licence 44. The group’s mission is to explore other potential options for the mill site over the next 90 days.
“We’ve had our first initial meeting and we have a series of weekly meetings coming up to look for other options for the site, other manufacturing of different products. We’re going to see where we can get investment from. Where we can get certainty of fibre supply,” said Butler.
The elected chief of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation says he’s confident they can find a path forward.
“I trust the brain trust we have working at the province, the brain trust at western, the brain trust at the union level and the brain trust at the first nation level can come up with some solution,” said Chief Councillor Robert Dennis Sr., of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation.
Dennis says the first nation may even be interested in investing in the mill site.
“Quite possible. I’m quite confident that there would be other first nations that would be interested in that concept,” Dennis said. “The idea of buying into APD (Alberni Pacific Division) is still on our table.”
Both the First Nation and the union say the B.C. government will need to be involved in finding a solution.
The decades-old mill had more than 200 employees at its height.
In 2021 Port Alberni moved to expropriate the former Somass mill from Western Forest Products which the city is now planning to develop.