Port Alberni, B.C., moves to expropriate Western Forest Products’ sawmill
June 26, 2021 | 5:35 pm CDT

PORT ALBERNI, British Columbia -- The City of Port Alberni set into motion action to take over more than 40 acres of land occupied by Western Forest Products’ Somass Division sawmill. The mill has not operated since 2017. 

The city said it served formal notice of expropriation to Western Forest Products and plans to redevelop the waterfront property. Port Alberni, with a 2016 population of 17,678, is located on Vancouver Island. 

A press release issued by Port Alberni noted, “City council considers expropriation to be a tool of last resort, and has only authorized the expropriation of the lands after significant discussion and thought.”

Mayor Sharie Minions added further commentary to the city’s action. “Early in our term, council identified the redevelopment of the under-utilized Somass lands as the highest priority action to achieve our goals of economic diversification, and enhancement of the public’s currently limited access to waterfront. The meaningful use of these lands is foundational to the vibrancy of Port Alberni. Western’s failure to operate their facility or alternatively to redevelop the property has gone on far too long, compelling city council to take action.

Western Forest Products Somass Sawmill

“City council is aware that operations at Somass Division Sawmill are indefinitely curtailed, and some community members remain hopeful that the site will one day re-open,” Minions continued. “The city has expressed to Western and to the province that our primary desire is for Western to fully operate its sawmill facilities in Port Alberni. In the absence of a commitment from Western to do so, the city will complete the expropriation process, and redevelop the lands in a manner that best addresses the current and future needs of our community for both public use and economic development. It is just not acceptable for a landowner to hold our community back by leaving such a critical piece of waterfront land in the heart of our city sitting idle.” 

The council held open the possibility of working with Western Forest Products to either reopen the sawmill or to take on redeveloping the property on its own or by another party. Short of coming to a “satisfactory arrangement” with Western, the city will continue the expropriation process, including calculating a fair market value for the property to compensate Western.

Western announced in July 2017 that it would indefinitely curtail operations at the Somass mill due to “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 by the United States.”
Western reportedly paid $450,000 in property taxes to Port Alberni in 2016, the last year the sawmill was operational. 

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Rich Christianson is the owner of Richson Media LLC, a Chicago-based communications firm focused on the industrial woodworking sector. Rich is the former long-time editorial director and associate publisher of Woodworking Network. During his nearly 35-year career, Rich has toured more than 250 woodworking operations throughout North America, Europe and Asia and has written extensively on woodworking technology, design and supply trends. He has also directed and promoted dozens of woodworking trade shows, conferences and seminars including the Cabinets & Closets Conference & Expo and the Woodworking Machinery & Supply Conference & Expo, Canada’s largest woodworking show.