The City of Port Alberni is sawing ahead with plans to take over a large waterfront property currently occupied by a major lumber company.
Western Forest Products’ Somass Sawmill, a 16-hectare piece of property located in the city’s downtown, has been idle since July 2017.
But with no apparent plans to either reopen the sawmill or do anything with the property, the city says the time has come to expropriate the lands.
“The mill has been closed for a long time and we’ve been working with Western to try to get them to either reopen the mill or redevelop the site,” said Port Alberni’s mayor Sharie Minions.
Described as a “last resort” option, the City of Port Alberni has now served a formal Notice of Expropriation to Western Forest Products, which could result in a forced sale of the land at current market value.
In a press release regarding the notice, Minions expressed the city’s desire to see the sawmill reopen but after years of nothing, they’re done waiting around.
“The city has expressed to Western and to the province that our primary desire is for Western to fully operate its sawmill facilities in Port Alberni,” Minions said in the release, later adding. “It is just not acceptable for a landowner to hold our community back by leaving such a critical piece of waterfront land in the heart of our city sitting idle.”
If realized, the move would open the door to redeveloping the 16-hectare (40-acre) site — something city council wants to see happen.
“In the opinion of council, these lands are just absolutely critical to the future of our community,” Minions told CHEK News.
When the mill shut down in 2017, work was curtailed indefinitely, meaning Western still pays $459,000 a year in property taxes to the city — a figure that would decrease significantly if the curtailment became permanent. Although the city would like to avoid the decrease, redevelopment of the property and improving public access along the waterfront is a bigger priority.
“Public access to the waterfront is critically important to our community and how we move forward,” added Minions. “This is a changing community and we see a lot of potential for light industrial, mixed-use commercial, possibly some residential as well, but that public use is going to be critically important to us.”
Western Forest Products told CHEK News in a statement that they’ve reached out to the City of Port Alberni to “understand” their reasoning behind the move.
“We have reached out to the City of Port Alberni to understand why they have taken this step. Western has a long track record of working cooperatively with our municipal partners to identify ways we could help achieve their strategic plans. We remain an open and committed partner to the City of Port Alberni and look forward to continuing to working together to identify a path forward.”