Western Forest Products has sold ownership interest in its Port Alberni forest operation to the Huu-ay-aht First Nations.
The announcement was made Dec. 14 at Pacific Coast University in Port Alberni.
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 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.
Don Demens, president and CEO of Western Forest Products, said the deal “is a positive step towards increasing First Nations participation in the forest sector, which will benefit the Nation, local communities, Western and our employees.”
It will increase Huu-ay-aht First Nations’ participation in the forestry sector and create better stability for business. It will allow both parties to better manage the resource and share infrastructure, Demens added.
“We want to mutually work with Western,” said Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert Dennis Sr. “What can we do to help generate wealth for Huu-ay-aht so we can do the things we need to do in our community…We have a rich forest; let’s make it work.”
“We’re really excited about the opportunity to expand across the land base. It makes for more efficient operations and will create more volume for Alberni,” Demens said.
“With the reduction of the land base here over the last 20 years there’s not enough volume here to support full operations in Port Alberni. In fact, only about 20 percent of the logs harvested in the Alberni Valley can actually fit into the mill. We import more logs into Port Alberni than go out of the mill.
“This creates a bigger land base to be able to get the right logs for the facility.”
Demens stopped short of saying WFP will have access to Huu-ay-aht treaty forest lands, saying they would have to work with the Huu-ay-aht on a standalone business agreement.
The deal builds on a Reconciliation Protocol Agreement the two parties signed earlier in 2018. “Huu-ay-aht and Western share the same goals, and together we have demonstrated a track record of cooperation and a willingness to work together to achieve reconciliation, and forestry revitalization,” the Huu-ay-aht noted in a prepared statement.
The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council called the agreement progressive and congratulated the Huu-ay-aht First Nations.
“This acquisition shows the nation’s determination to create a better future for its members—particularly with respect to future employment opportunities in Huu-ay-aht territory,” NTC president Judith Sayers said.
“Kudos as well to Western Forest Products for the innovation it displayed in working with a First Nation on a development that will progress the interests of both parties.”
Norm MacLeod, representing United Steelworkers Local 1-85, said the agreement is good for forestry in the Alberni Valley. “It will help the Alberni Valley grow and keep some of the wood here instead of being sent over the Hump,” he said.
“I’m hoping it will mean more jobs.”
Demens said there is still work to be done before the deal will be complete. “Once we end up with a final agreement, then the physical work would start, and the management,” Demens said.
“There’s a business structure that needs to be developed and put in place for the transaction to finalize.”
The deal is still subject to approval of Huu-ay-aht citizens and the provincial government. The Huu-ay-aht will hold community engagement sessions to discuss details with their citizens in January 2019.