McLean Mill was established as a working sawmill in 1926 in the Alberni Valley, and has been open as a national historic site since 2000. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

McLean Mill was established as a working sawmill in 1926 in the Alberni Valley, and has been open as a national historic site since 2000. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

McLean Mill better off removed from ALR, city agrees

City of Port Alberni votes to ask for mill’s removal from Agricultural Land Reserve

The City of Port Alberni will apply to remove 11.5 hectares of the McLean Mill site from the Agricultural Land Reserve. Councillors voted unanimously during a special meeting on Monday, March 29 to submit an application to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) asking for the removal.

The city was forced to make a decision after the ALC denied a previous application for non-farming use. The city has until April 1 to submit their request for removal.

“At the end of the day, in order for us to make the best use of that property, whether it be for farming or any other use, the best option is to exclude it from the ALR,” Councillor Helen Poon said.

Members of the public debated both sides of the issue during a sedate public hearing on Tuesday, March 23.

Taking McLean Mill National Historic Site out of the Agricultural Land Reserve will provide more flexibility for site use, proponents said. However, that freedom means no limits, and that’s worrisome, say those who wanted the site kept as part of the ALR.

Mayor Sharie Minions supports removing McLean Mill from the ALR, but cautioned that the city must be “a lot more critical of our spending decisions.”

“We can all see it’s a beautiful site…Historic value doesn’t mean we continue to spend money,” she said.

Minions said this application “is the best path forward. We need to submit this application. We need to know what we are allowed to do or not allowed to do” moving forward.

The public hearing was conducted virtually via Zoom and livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel. Both the public hearing and the special meeting of council are available to watch on YouTube.

Four e-mails were received for consideration at the public hearing. Five members of the public participated via Zoom, with two people speaking in favour of removing the parcel of land from the ALR.

John Adams, who operates a beef cattle farm on Batty Road near the mill site, wrote that removing the property from the ALR would give the city too much freedom to develop it as it sees fit. “Without the ALR regulations being applied the city could do as it pleases,” he said. “There are many of us in the ALR that don’t wish to farm, but must adhere to rules so in the future, there is farmland. To allow McLean Mill to be excluded would create a free zone in the middle of a large ALR zone with devastating results.”

Susan Roth wrote to say the city’s application contains inaccuracies about non-farming activities such as operation of a steam mill, which Roth points out hasn’t operated since 2016.

Roland Smith said non soil-based agriculture could be achieved on the site if it were to be left in the ALR. He said the city is contradicting its own Food Security and Climate Disruption Committee by considering removal of agricultural land from protection of the ALR.

Two people who have worked in food security and agricultural production in the Alberni Valley disagreed with that point of view, saying the site would have greater flexibility if it were taken out of the ALR.

“I see the McLean Mill National Historic Site as a site for opportunity, both from a farming perspective and a tourism perspective,” said Genevieve Huneault, who has worked with food security in the Alberni Valley and works with a national Indigenous tourism organization.

“I think if it’s developed responsibly and sustainably we can see McLean Mill as more than just a cultural and historic site.” She said she would like to see the city create a strategic plan for the site that includes input from both the Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations.

Anna Lewis, an agricultural support worker with the ACRD, supports removing McLean Mill from the ALR because the parcel in question doesn’t have much agricultural value—especially because of recent contamination that came to light. “There is a lot of under-utilized farm land in this Valley and a lot more arable land than this site at McLean Mill.”

READ: City of Port Alberni asks for non-farm use for McLean Mill

READ: ALC denies City of Port Alberni’s application for McLean Mill

Scott Kenny, representing the Alberni Valley Enhancement Association, expressed some concerns about the 1.3 hectares that would remain within the ALR and contains land used to support a fish hatchery that has operated on the site for two decades. He was concerned that the fish fence, pedestrian bridge and forested trail on the east side of the property wasn’t included, but the city confirmed these areas are not impacted by the application.

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