Alberni Pacific Division Sawmill in Port Alberni will be closing for a month starting on March 18. Western Forest Products owns and operates the mill.
“We are temporarily suspending operations for a four-week period starting on March 18,” WFP director of communications Babita Khunkhun confirmed late Friday, March 8.
“This decision is directly related to market conditions. Our APD facility mainly produces products for the Japanese market, so it’s related to market demand for that product.”
Khunkhun said employees at APD have been advised of the shutdown. When asked if there is a solid date for when the mill would restart, she said the shutdown is for four weeks. “We have advised our employees that it will be for a four-week period. If it changes we will advise them at that time.”
Western Forest Products owns another mill in Port Alberni, the Somass Sawmill. The company announced on July 27, 2017 that they were closing the mill indefinitely. Work at the mill had been curtailed since the previous February; it has never reopened.
The Somass Mill has been a challenge for WFP, president and CEO Don Demens said in a December 2018 interview. “We don’t have enough tenure and enough log supply to support the full operation of both facilities. So we made the difficult decision a while ago to indefinitely curtail Somass.”
He said Western is still using the kilns at Somass as part of its Port Alberni operations.
The company announced last December that they had entered into an agreement with Huu-ay-aht First Nations to buy into a limited partnership.
The purchase has been set up as a limited partnership for $7.2 million, representing a seven percent share for Huu-ay-aht. Assets in the limited partnership will consist of some of Western’s assets in its Port Alberni forest operation, including TFL 44. The deal makes room for Western to sell incremental interest in the limited partnership to the Huu-ay-aht in the future.
Western will still access fibre from TFL 44 to support its B.C. manufacturing facilities.
The December announcement “is the first step toward implementing an innovative new framework for the ownership, cooperative management and operation of forestry on TFL 44 and throughout the Alberni Valley,” Huu-ay-aht lawyer Rob Botterell said at the time.
Demens said the announcement with the Huu-ay-aht First Nations provided them with ownership in the tenure and input into its management, while for WFP “it provides certainty and stability for our mills and our employees.”
“With the reduction in the land base here over the last 20 years, there’s not enough volume here to support full operations here in Port Alberni,” Demens said. “In fact, only about 20 percent of the logs that are harvested in the Alberni Valley can actually fit into the mill.
“We import more logs in Port Alberni than go out.”