San Group is investing $100 million in Port Alberni facilities that will in the coming months see finished wood products leaving local shipyards rather than raw logs.
The announcement was made at the Coulson mill site on Seizai Road in Port Alberni on June 2. The facility has significantly expanded over the past few years accommodate the construction of a new mill and a lumber yard.
The yard was buzzing with activity as several lumber trucks lined up on the hill that drops down into the waterside mill site to be loaded with finished lumber.
On the far end of the property, small second-growth logs were being pulled from log booms in the water and neatly stacked near the entrance to the nearby mill.
San Group owner Kamal Sanghera stated that his company is making a total $100 million investment in Port Alberni over the next year.
“We’d like to see our products leaving right from here instead of shipping it over the hump,” he said, adding this will mean cleaner air.
Former Port Alberni mayor and now San Group employee Mike Ruttan told the crowd that the company has three projects on the go.
There is a new facility adjacent to the older Coulson mill that represents a $15 million investment and is expected to be finished in 2022. This mill will be able to handle poor-grade wood that would usually go to waste. He went on to say that the new mill was designed and produced in Port Alberni.
In addition, the remanufacturing plant on Stamp Avenue is in the finishing stages with paving and landscaping being completed. It represents a $15-20 million investment.
The company has also come up with a plan to deal with wood waste. Sanghera noted that there is always waste.
“Our mills produce about 30 to 40 tonnes a day in wood shavings, which are usually burnt,” he said.
But a new biomass facility, the San Specialty Sawmill on Hector Road that is expected to open before the end of 2021, will take the wood shavings. Some will be used by the company and what can’t be used will be turned into wood pellets to be sold.
“There will be no waste, we will be 100 per cent green,” he said.
San Group prides itself on its reputation, which they say is built on being strong stewards of the land, as well as building respectful relationships with First Nations.
“It starts with being environmentally sensitive to the area in which we access our wood supply, adhering to sustainable harvesting, and using innovative methods to recover underutilized fibre that might otherwise be left behind through traditional forest practices. We create as much value from our fibre as possible, allowing us to reduce our carbon footprint,” states San Group on its website.
Ruttan said the announcement reflects San Group’s values.
“There is a plan for every tree and there will be no waste,” he said, adding that San Group is already ahead of the game in terms of the B.C. premier’s future of forestry plan announced the day before.
He called Premier Horgan’s June 2 announcement a road map for the future of B.C. forestry, with a focus on sustainability.
“San is already doing it,” said Ruttan.
They’re creating value-added products, thereby reducing raw log exports. We will see increased shipping of finished products from Port Alberni, he added.
San Group is making investments into Port Alberni’s waterfront that will allow their lumber to be shipped out to deep sea ports. Ken McRae of PAPA said that for the first time in a long time, Port Alberni will see finished lumber going out on the docks as opposed to raw logs.
“It’s good to see people like San Group investing in our community,” he told the crowd.
MP Gord Johns commended San Group for the work they’ve done in Port Alberni, calling it an incredible investment.
“It is an example of finding a way to plug an economic leakage,” he said, adding that San Group is creating jobs for working families. “Thank you, San Group, for choosing Port Alberni.”
Tom Watts was introduced as a Tseshaht hereditary chief. His daughter, renowned artist Annie Watts, runs a cedar carving school in Port Alberni. San Group provides support for the school, according to Tom Watts, who gave Kamal Sanghera a woven cedar headband as a gift.
Port Alberni Mayor Shari Minions called the San Group announcement a step forward into the future of the forestry industry and she is proud that San Group chose Port Alberni to be the host community.
“We are here to stay, to make sure we will grow together,” said Sanghera.
But not everyone has been pleased with the San Group’s expanded role in Port Alberni’s waterfront economy. After hearing that the Port Alberni Port Authority had signed over control of the industrial waterfront area’s Berth 3 to the San Group, those with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union feared jobs would be lost.
After recent meetings with the port authority and the San Group, the union’s Local 508 President Mark Braithwaite had his concerns eased – for now.
“We are in discussions on keeping the dock labour and the loading of log ships still within our work,” said Braithwaite. “It’s always been our work. We pointed that out to the San Group and I believe we can come to an agreement with them.”