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New sawmill is only ‘phase one’ for San Group

Deal is first of several plans for Alberni company
The trees at the corner of Stamp Avenue and Roger Street won’t be coming down despite San Group Inc. purchasing the property to build a new sawmill. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Building a new sawmill beside Catalyst Paper is just one part of San Group Inc.’s plans for expansion in the Alberni Valley, says co-owner Kamal Sanghera.

San Group and Catalyst Paper announced last week that San Group has purchased 25 acres of land on the Port Alberni Catalyst Paper mill site to build a new sawmill.

The announcement came less than a week after San Group announced it will start a third shift at its Coulson Mill on the outskirts of Port Alberni, expanding its workforce.

Under terms of the new deal, San Group has purchased 25 acres of the Catalyst Paper mill site in Port Alberni, in the corner bordering Stamp Avenue and Roger Street.

It is anticipated construction of a new sawmill will create 50 new jobs in phase one, followed by an additional 85 jobs, once phases two and three are operational, according to a San Group press release.

“We have full right to start construction right away on the site,” said San Group CEO Kamal Sanghera. “Our…team, our engineers are already on site, looking at the site and preparing for construction.”

The sale represents a total investment of between $60-$70 million dollars by the family-owned San Group Inc. for the construction of a new sawmill that will ensure smaller diameter logs can be utilized for manufacturing in B.C. It is anticipated construction will begin next spring.

If the sawmill is successful, there are plans for expansion, Sanghera said. “Phase 2 is a manufacturing plant.”

The company would look at manufacturing value-added products. “What we are trying to do is utilize the maximum fibre out of the forest; unused fibre is available out there in the bush. “

They would process it and use it for chipping and creating product for laminating, such as San Group already does at its Coulson Mill. Part of the deal with Catalyst is that San Group’s sawmill will provide an additional supply of wood chips to supplement production for Catalyst’s operations in B.C., which will ensure greater viability and security for the company and its more than 1,500-person workforce.

“We have found a perfect synergy between two Canadian manufacturers and it’s the proverbial win-win for both the companies and the local workforce,” Sanghera said. “We take great pride in maximizing every aspect of the wood product, from harvesting to processing and remanufacturing. The economic, environmental and societal impacts are an important aspect of this agreement.

“We are trying to utilize fibre a lot more intelligently than anybody else is doing it,” he added. “We want to keep the raw wood from going out. Our goal is to use the natural resources in the Valley to create jobs in the Valley and ship finished product out—keep the jobs in Canada.”

Another facet to San Group Inc.’s expansion plans for Port Alberni includes a $40 million, multi-level timber structured building—a high rise, according to Seva Dhaliwal, who ran unsuccessfully for city council in the Oct. 20 civic election. She first shared San Group’s plans on Sept. 29 on her campaign Facebook page.

Sanghera said the high rise is just an idea for now. “There are lots of plans to invest a lot of money here.”

AJ Cheema, vice-president of corporate affairs for San Group, said the company is in “very early discussions” about a high rise. “There’s nothing set in stone about that right now. These are privileged discussions. We want to re-invest and create jobs, especially in Port Alberni. We’re always looking at numerous options.”

Dhaliwal said the community must ensure San Group has enough fibre supply to keep operating. “We need to tenaciously lobby the provincial government to provide San Group with a Tree Farm Licence (TFL) close to town to reduce the cost of bringing logs to the mills,” she wrote in a post on Facebook.

Sanghera said San Group would pursue a TFL if presented with the opportunity. “If there is a TFL then yes, we want to get that so we can sustain jobs in the community.”

San Group has produced forest products in British Columbia since 1979. The company has evolved from a small lumber remanufacturing facility to a multi-level forest products corporation with more than 30 years of exporting experience to a global community.

Although they only bought the Coulson Mill from the Coulson family in May 2017, Sanghera said San Group has had dealings in the Alberni Valley for nearly 10 years.

“We have been using Coulson for the last seven or eight years,” he said. The community’s welcome reception has given them the confidence to keep investing in Port Alberni.

“When we got there one and a half years ago we got a lot of response from the local council, a lot of response from the local mayor (Mike Ruttan at the time). The welcome we got from the community is what made us want to invest more in the community.”

For now, the company will concentrate on plans to build the new sawmill.

The greenbelt currently on the corner of the property at Stamp and Roger will remain, says AJ Cheema, vice-president of corporate affairs for San Group. “None of the trees are being removed. We’re going to be adding greenery.”

Cheema said no plans were in place to accommodate the annual Thunder in the Valley drag races, which have been using the vacant area on Catalyst’s property for parking while the event has been staged on Stamp Avenue.

“That hasn’t come up so we haven’t been able to address that,” he said on Oct. 19, the day after the sale was announced. “That’s the first time we’re hearing of this. It’s something we can definitely look into.”

Susie Quinn

About the Author: Susie Quinn

A journalist since 1987, I proudly serve as the Alberni Valley News editor.
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