Lumber donations could go a long way to helping heritage mill eliminate its city subsidy

Alberni’s McLean Mill looks for subsidy compromise

Alberni city Coun. Jack McLeman wants Vancouver Island-based logging companies to donate more logs to McLean Mill to offset city subsidy

If McLean Mill National Historic Site’s steam sawmill was busier, the city wouldn’t have to subsidize it so much, says Coun. Jack McLeman.

McLeman is calling on Vancouver Island-based logging companies to donate more logs to the mill.

Councillors passed a motion at the Feb. 27 budget meeting seeking donations of logs to boost lumber sales at the mill.

According to McLeman, Western Forest Products donated some logs in 2012 and the results were good for the mill.

“We got wood to use on the site. It helped repair the fish ladder. And we got to sell some of it, so I’d say this worked well for the mill,” McLeman said.

The plan has a downside, he admitted. For starters, the mill is old and it can’t run fast. It can only run for three hours a day without a heavier maintenance schedule. And the wood would have to be sold in a niche market, he said.

“We’re not competing with APD, Somass Mill, etc.”

Western Forest Products isn’t the only group who have donated logs; others such as Probyn Logging and outside private groups have in the past as well.

McLeman wants to solicit donations from other groups, asking the city to issue a tax receipt in return.

The mill’s total budget for this year is $500,000. Mill manager Neil Malbon said the tourism-based operation is projected to generate $250,000 to $255,000 in revenue this year, and officials have asked for a $249,000 subsidy.

“Just over 50 per cent out of what we spend in our budget we generate ourselves,” Malbon said.

According to McLeman, the mill sold $20,000 of lumber last year. “If other outfits donated to us and we could get that up by two to three times then we’d need less subsidy from the city,” he said.

The goal is to cut back the subsidy to zero; but in order to do that the mill must become economically self-sufficient, McLeman said.

“I think the business is there.”

The mill has purchased some timber, including yellow cedar from Western Forest Products.

There are two or three employees who run the mill regularly. They have local customers for lumber: their custom-cut wood is especially in demand from people who are rebuilding docks or having to replace support timbers.

Most of the orders are cut during summer tourist demonstrations, but there is room to increase production a little, McLeman said.

The mill received a national historic site designation from Parks Canada more than a decade ago. As a result of the designation, the city and federal government signed a 42-year agreement involving the mill, city  manager Ken Watson said.

The agreement called for the feds to contribute $2 million with matching provincial funds for capital improvement to the mill.

The agreement makes no mention about the mill’s operation or the steam train, Watson said.

“It (the mill) shouldn’t be allowed to fall into a state of disrepair but it doesn’t have to be operated on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

The mill is an integral part of the community and worth the investment, Alberni Valley Museum director Jean McIntosh said.

“It’s a historical mark and a commemorative location. It’s a representation of a mill of a certain era in our heritage,” McIntosh said.

The mill is a social, technological and commercial example of the way people lived in the Valley then and that’s important, she said. “It’s part of the community’s original fabric and it still resides at the site.”

Forestry is the foundation the city was built on, she added. “It’s the original essence of economic development in the community.”

The Anderson mill that was built in 1860 at the foot of what is now Argyle Street was the first sawmill built in B.C. The London, England-based company brought in workers and supplies for the mill, and this spawned the beginning of a settlement that eventually grew out around it to become Port Alberni.

“That is something to honour and is hugely important,” McIntosh said.

R.B. McLean built McLean Mill and operated it with his three sons between 1926-65. Some of the original buildings are still standing.

The mill is a cultural investment in the Valley, McIntosh said.

It showcases who we are. Gives a glimpse at the Valley’s past and present. And promotes the Valley’s uniqueness as a community, she said.

“It also gives our children a sense of where it is they come from and what their roots are,” McIntosh said.

“That’s what we invest in when we invest in culture.”

reporter@albernivalleynews.com

Twitter.com/AlberniNews

— With files from Susan Quinn

Just Posted

Comedy show in Port Alberni raises funds for local charity

The Human Condition Comedy Tour will be at the Rainbow Room on Sept. 19

Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District to hear feedback on cannabis production

Bylaw amendment could limit cannabis production in the district

BCHL: Alberni Valley Bulldogs pick up first win of the season on home ice

Bannister, Bosse play the heroes in ‘close’ game with Nanaimo

UPDATE: UVic students killed in Bamfield bus crash were from Winnipeg, Iowa City

RCMP also said a second vehicle was in the area at the time of the collision

Port Alberni’s 35th Toy Run draws 420 riders

Gloomy weather didn’t dampen spirits

VIDEO: Liberals make child care pledge, Greens unveil platform on Day 6 of campaign

Green party leader Elizabeth May unveils her party’s platform in Toronto

Canucks sign Brock Boeser to three-year, US$17.6-million deal

Young sniper will be in Vancouver Tuesday

Nanaimo ferry an hour and a half behind schedule after medical emergency

Queen of Oak Bay was delayed at Departure Bay this afternoon

B.C. forest industry looks to a high-technology future

Restructuring similar to Europe 15 years ago, executive says

RCMP conclude investigation into 2017 Elephant Hill wildfire

Files have been turned over to BC Prosecution Service

B.C. wants to be part of global resolution in opioid company bankruptcy claim

Government says settlement must include Canadian claims for devastation created by overdose crisis

Two Nanaimo residents share $5-million Lotto 6/49 prize

Jesse Logan and Teresa Winters Day matched all six numbers in Aug. 21 Lotto 6/49 draw

Island campground on the chopping block as ALC deadline looms

Owners fighting to continue facility’s operation, with a huge outpouring of support

Most Read