Raw logs are loaded onto a logging ship from a log sort down the Alberni Inlet in March 2019. SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News

Raw logs are loaded onto a logging ship from a log sort down the Alberni Inlet in March 2019. SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News

Port Alberni surprisingly light on industrial land

Report finds few suitable locations for new industry in the city and surrounding area

Despite Port Alberni’s reputation as an industrial city, there is a lack of land available for new industry in the Alberni Valley.

The City of Port Alberni and the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District have partnered with consultant MDB Insight to put together an inventory of the available industrial land in the Alberni Valley. The final report was presented to city council during a meeting on Feb. 22, and again to the ACRD board during a meeting on Feb. 24.

City of Port Alberni economic development manager Pat Deakin explained that the inventory was motivated by “multiple” land inquiries from interested developers.

“Every year the city and the regional district receive a number of inquiries from entrepreneurs who are looking for industrial land or light industrial land for a number of projects,” said Deakin. “Every year we struggle to find land for those projects despite our reputation as an industrial community.”

In 2018 alone, said Deakin, the city was “slammed” with requests for a variety of projects, ranging from forestry to Bitcoin operations.

It was in 2018 that Deakin and ACRD planning manager Mike Irg obtained a grant from Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) to conduct an inventory of industrial lands. Through the project, MDB Insight put together a “shortlist” of three sites in the Alberni Valley that are best suited for industry.

The three sites are the former Link Mill site on Franklin River Road (owned by Mosaic), 26 hectares of land near the Alberni Valley Regional Airport (also owned by Mosaic) and three lots at 19th Avenue and Montrose Street in Port Alberni (owned by the city).

“[These are] the sites that we felt had the highest possible opportunity in terms of developing industrial park,” explained Jordan Tidey of MDB Insight during his presentation to the ACRD board.

All three sites lack water and sewer services, however, which will need to be remedied in order to make the sites “investment-ready.”

Several city councillors expressed concern about the three city lots, which are close to a residential area in Port Alberni.

“I just have a feeling that that particular area would be, in our future, probably future residential,” said councillor Ron Paulson.

The report did make note of the former Somass Sawmill site on the Port Alberni waterfront. Deakin said the city is “very conscious” of the opportunity that the site presents. The mill, owned by Western Forest Products, was curtailed “indefinitely” back in 2017, but a permanent closure has not yet been announced.

READ MORE: Somass Mill rally hears of investment interest

“It’s privately owned, and until the owner signals that the curtailment turns into something more—and they decide to sell the property—we did not think it was appropriate to include it [in the shortlist],” said Deakin.

The report also noted the former Gill School site on Beaver Creek Road as a potential option for manufacturing operations. However, Deakin said the current owner (School District 70) has not indicated their willingness to sell the site.

The city and regional district will now begin the process of securing and rezoning the identified priority sites to prepare them for future development.

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