Port Alberni mill site should be returned to estuary says local group

CHEK
A group would like to see the former Somass Mill turned into an estuary, but the city has other plans.

A mill has been on the waterfront property of the Somass Mill in Port Alberni since the early 1930s but the City purchased the 20 hectares of land from Western Forest products in 2021 for $5.3 million when the mill closed for good.

The City’s intent is to sell it to developers who will build residential units, retail stores and parks.

But a group led by former councillor Chris Alemany says restoring the estuary that was there before the mill is really the best option.

“What I think would be amazing and what the group is hoping for is to re-naturalize the whole Somass lands,” said Alemany who is part of the Dry Creek Restoration Group. “So bring it back to its original shoreline and bring Dry Creek, the actual creek itself back to its original course.”

Alemany hosted a walk around of the property Saturday that attracted Jim Rutherford whose grandfather helped build the mill. His father then worked there and Rutherford himself was employed at the mill for 45 years before retiring in 2006.

“It’s built on a site that’s all bog,” he said. “We used to see water running out under the buildings when the tide was high and you talk about global warming now and the water rising and I think this is a bad spot for something like big development.”

“There’s lots of other areas to build. Just look around you, look how much land is around us,” added Richard Krivensky who attended the walk. “We don’t have to build on the waterfront. We’ve got lots of land behind the city here that’s undeveloped. There’s lots of places to build.”

The mayor of Port Alberni says the motivation for buying the property never included turning it into an estuary which would cost even more money.

Sharie Minions says the city purchased the land in order to have control over the property that was not being utilized by Western.

“We do expect to get our money back out of purchasing it and use it as an economic development tool,” Minions told CHEK News.

She says residential, commercial and parks could all be part of the property’s future.

“A mixed-use site that will highlight that both industry and quality of life and people on the waterfront can all co-exist,” she said.

“It’s a very unique space and we very much want to see it be something that will be a huge contributor to our community long term. There will be parks and open spaace. There are plans for a multi-use path along the waterfront and we certainly do expect to be selling portions of the land or the whole thing to the right developer.”

Minions says there has been a lot of interest from developers.

“The city has put out a call to ask everyone what can we do and I’m really looking forward to seeing what our options are,” said Char Patterson, who attended the walk and is running for city council. “I’m all about environment and returning the creek to its original state is exciting but there’s a lot of room for everything.”

Alemany says there’s room for an esturary and development.

A group brochure states: “Sea level rise, earthquakes, extreme weather, flooding, and tsunamis are all things that can and have impacted the Somass Mill and other low lying areas. Restoring the natural marsh and pulling the shore back toward higher ground will help create a barrier to protect our community and investments.”

Minions says a decision could be made in four to six months.

Dean Stoltz

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