Paper Excellence Canada is investing $13 million in upgrades to its Port Alberni paper mill. The move will allow the company to diversify into unique food grade papers used by restaurants and food preparation enterprises.
“With the help from the leadership of B.C.’s government, we are very excited to invest in a winning project like this at Port Alberni; a mill that supports over 300 jobs,” said Patrick Corriveau, vice-president of Paper and Packaging at Paper Excellence.
The project will improve production processes and allow the company to increase capacity of its products. Paper Excellence will upgrade both of the paper machines still operating at the Port Alberni mill to make food grade paper at the same time.
“We’re exceptionally excited,” said Marc Bodin, general manager of the Port Alberni plant. “This demonstrates PE’s commitment to making Port Alberni a viable operation going forward. It provides job security for the people who work here and helps us be more competitive with the new products we will be producing.”
This is the largest investment in the paper mill since 2008, said Bodin, who has been working here since 2010.
“It’s something that’s been developed over the last two to three years and it’s starting to grow,” Bodin said. For years the company has made its money from making newsprint for newspapers, and glossy paper for flyers and magazines like Rolling Stone. When that business began to decline, the company started looking to diversify. They are able to make paper with a wax coating or meld paper with an aluminum coating to create a pouch, for example.
Engineering for the project will begin shortly, and Paper Excellence anticipates the upgrade will be completed in the latter half of 2021.
The investment is a boost for the city’s economy, says Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions. “As part of council’s Corporate Strategic Plan to encourage investment and sustainable growth we congratulate Paper Excellence and their employees for their dedicated work in developing the proposal for this investment and their steadfast belief in the mill and our community,” Minions said in a statement.
The move also shows how much the company is invested in the forestry industry, said Karrine Conroe, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. “A thriving and diverse forest sector with sustainable jobs is a key part of B.C.’s economic recovery from COVID-19 and beyond.”
“Forestry has been at the heart of the economy in the Alberni Valley, on Vancouver Island and in B.C. for generations,” said Josie Osborne, NDP MLA for Mid Island-Pacific Rim. “Paper Excellence’s investment in its Port Alberni mill demonstrates its confidence in the province’s forest sector and contributes to stability and security for the local families whose livelihoods depend on it.”
Bodin said Paper Excellence gets some of its fibre from San Group, which is building a remanufacturing plant on property that was formerly part of the paper mill. San has three other mills elsewhere in the Alberni Valley. “We’re excited the San Group is investing in the Valley and increasing their lumber capacity. Our fibre comes from sawmill residual—the waste that comes from sawmill—for processing facilities, so more lumber means more possible (wood) chips for us.”
San Group owner Suki Sanghera was one of the first to congratulate Paper Excellence on social media. “Nice to hear Port Alberni coming back,” he said.
While this is the largest investment Paper Excellence Canada has made at the Port Alberni mill since its purchase a year and a half ago, former owners Catalyst Paper made multiple multi-million-dollar investments in the facility between 2001 and 2014. Some of those projects included building a crumb dip as part of the crumb kraft project that allows the company to transfer kraft pulp from its Crofton mill to Port Alberni in crumb format rather than sheets; increasing the TMP capacity so they can produce more tonnes of TMP pulp out of the same system, and modifying instruments and paper forming section of one of the paper machines.
Paper Excellence was considered an essential service during the COVID-19 business shutdowns, so employees continued to work through the pandemic pause, Bodin said. The paper mill will be running right through Christmas—no break this year, he added.