WFP cites “the lack of log supply to operate the mill efficiently, as well as the uncertainty caused by duties recently applied to Canadian softwood lumber products sold into the United States” as reasons for closure.
The gates are now closing for good at the Western Forest Product’s Somass sawmill in Port Alberni.
“It’s very disappointing” said Glen Cheetham who worked at the mill from 1989 to 2005 before taking a position with the United Steelworkers Union local 1-85 which represents the mill’s workers. “It was a lot of fun working here and so I know all the crew, they’ve bent over backwards through tough times.”
The mill was originally shut down in February under a temporary curtailment.
No one from Western Forest Products was available for an interview Friday but a spokesperson told CHEK News the curtailment relates in part to uncertainty around recent trade actions taken by the United States and the lack of an adequate log supply to run the mill efficiently.
However, the union doesn’t buy the log supply argument saying the mill made $5million last year with just one shift working.
“I believe it’s because they’re taking all the fibre to the east coast mills and that’s where they want it to go and it’s by design” said Steelworkers local 1-85 president Norm Macleod. “We know that some of the higher-ups have a dislike for Port Alberni and have for a long time.”
77 positions are affected. Some workers have taken positions at other WFP mills while others are getting a severance.
The Mayor of Port Alberni says the effects range even further.
“Every job has a multiplier of one to three so it’s really over 200 jobs somewhere that are impacted by the closure of this mill” said Mike Ruttan. “Whether it’s in truck tires or whether it’s in oil or whether it’s in manufacturing or whatever.”
He adds the Port Alberni economy is diversifying but that the port is still very viable for forestry operations.
He says products still can and should be made there to ship around the world.
“And that hasn’t been the case and that’s what we’re working on as a city to try and create the conditions where those investment decisions will be made.
Western Forest Products paid the city $450,000 a year in property taxes.
That will decrease as operations cease.