Port Alberni city council has a decision to make about the future of McLean Mill after a non-farm use application to the Agricultural Land Commision (ALC) was denied.
The city was served a non-compliance notice from the ALC back in March after a public complaint pointed out that the McLean Mill National Historic Site—which is located within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR)—is being used for commercial ventures outside of the scope of a National Historic Site. This includes food and gift services, campgrounds and public events.
As a result, the city sent an application for non-farm use to the ALC back in June 2020.
On Nov. 2, the Agricultural Land Commission’s Island Panel determined that the city’s current operations are not “an appropriate use of ALR land” so long as McLean Mill remains in the ALR.
The panel’s decision found that McLean Mill’s “agricultural capability is significantly limited due to its historical use as a mill site.” Most of the site is made up of heritage buildings and equipment, as well as a fish hatchery.
Based on a contamination assessment that was prepared by Envirochem Special Projects Inc. in 1994, the panel also determined that the land has been exposed to “many years of soil contamination” as a result of the mill’s operation.
“The Panel finds that years of soil contamination from the Property’s industrial and commercial uses have disturbed the soil’s nutrients and composition thereby limiting the Property’s current and future potential for soil-bound agriculture,” read the Nov. 2 report.
The panel has refused the city’s proposal to continue operating commercial and tourism uses on the site.
Port Alberni city council will be discussing the future of McLean Mill during their upcoming council meeting on Monday, Nov. 9. City CAO Tim Pley explained that he has offered three options for council: submit an application to the ALC to have McLean Mill removed from the ALR, submit an application to the ALC to reconsider their decision or take no further action at this time.
“I’m recommending that council make an application to the ALC to have the site removed from the ALR,” said Pley on Thursday, Nov. 5.
In the meantime, Pley has reached out to the ALC’s compliance branch to confirm that no enforcement will take place until after the city has had an opportunity to submit a new application.
“The [Alberni Valley] Chamber of Commerce will continue to run the gift shop out there,” he said. “We have requested that they not make any changes to their operations in the meantime.”
After the ALC’s final decision was released, Beaver Creek resident Susan Roth sent a letter to city and ACRD staff, imploring the city to stop commercial and tourism activities on the site. She described McLean Mill as “a toxic mess” due to soil and water contamination.
“The way I see it, McLean Mill is a brownfield site and should be treated as such,” she said. “I hope that you decide to make our environment a priority and move forward with a plan to clean up the place.”
The city will make a decision about the future of McLean Mill during Monday’s council meeting.
“It’s in council’s hands to see what direction they want to go in,” said Pley.