San Group employees and contractors watch the first official log come out of a ring debarker before heading via conveyor to the hewsaw at the new B Mill on San’s Coulson site, Friday, May 29, 2020. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

San Group opens new sawmill in B.C.

It’s the first mill in 15 years to be built on west coast

For the first time in 15 years, a new mill has opened on British Columbia’s west coast.

San Group on Friday (May 29) cut their first log on their new hewsaw mill located at the company’s Coulson site south of Port Alberni. There are now two mills located at this site: A Mill, which handles larger sized logs, and B Mill, which houses the HewSaw and can handle logs as small as four inches in diameter.

“This is a proud moment for the San family: my brother (Suki Sanghera), myself and everybody here from San,” Kamal Sanghera said. “This is something we planned a few years back and it’s nice to see everything is ready to go.”

Testing of the mill was completed days before the opening, and employees were working on the machine late into the night before, he said. Dozens of employees and dignitaries were on hand to watch as the first log was fed through the ring debarker then the HewSaw and the chipper.

“We’re very excited to have the investment in the Alberni Valley,” Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns said. It’s good to “celebrate something on the coast that hasn’t happened in 15 years.”

San Group purchased the Coulson Mill site in May 2017 and the Sangheras vowed to increase value-added wood production. They have followed through, Kamal Sanghera said Friday.

“The main thing is to add maximum value right at the source,” Sanghera explained. “We cut a tree, our thing is to put maximum value right here, on the spot—and to not ship any raw logs out of here.”

By the end of July he hopes to be able to ship finished lumber by barge right from Port Alberni Terminals. Long-term plans are to bring a container ship to Port Alberni.

“Our main target is to create jobs right here.”

“This is what we’ve always intended our forests to be doing—working for us,” Johns said.

The B Mill took 13 months to build. “We still have a ways to go with the rest of the project,” project manager Scott Davidson said. We should be looking pretty good by the end of the summer to have the sorter online and the packaging. We also have other things at our (remanufacturing plant) finishing in town.”

San Group originally planned to build the B Mill on land it purchased beside Paper Excellence Canada, then once it was running build a remanufacturing plant. Public outcry about a sawmill operating in what is seen as a tourist area forced the Surrey-based company to redraw its plans and build the mill on the existing Coulson site.

San’s A Mill continued to operate while the B Mill was under construction. “It was actually a really good thing,” Davidson said.

“It had its own challenges logistics wise as far as moving stuff from one site to the other, with a full-production, two-shift mill running and getting enough space in this facility to build it. It was good to have the existing members of the mill available to help in this project—it was good to have that labour force here.”

The HewSaw at B Mill was put into regular production on Monday, June 1, and Davidson estimated the mill would operate at 25–30 percent capacity until the end of July, when it should be running at 100 percent capacity.

READ: San Group buys specialty sawmill in Port Alberni

There is already a mill at the former Coulson Mill site. The A Mill takes care of average sized logs. San Group in April purchased the former Chalwood Forest Products sawmill on Hector Road west of Port Alberni, and is able to accommodate 20- to 40-foot-long timbers as well as lower grade lumber.

The B Mill will take care of smaller-diameter logs, and the remanufacturing plant that is presently under construction on Stamp Avenue beside Paper Excellence Canada’s paper mill will take care of value-added cutting and processing.

It all plays into the provincial government’s assertion that British Columbia’s forestry industry needs to look at high value, not high volume in order to be sustainable, says Ken McRae, former mayor of Port Alberni who sits on the federal and provincial log export boards.

Port Alberni’s present mayor, Sharie Minions, called San Group’s vision “the future of the forest industry.

“This for the San Group is just the first step in what they’re looking at for high-value. I could not agree more with the mentality that we hav to get as much value as possible out of every tree that is cut down in our working forests.

“I think the San Group is really living that.”

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Kamal, left, and Suki Sanghera of San Group address a crowd of employees and dignitaries in front of the new chipper that is part of the B Mill at there Coulson site near Port Alberni, B.C. on Friday, May 29, 2020. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Suki, left, and Kamal Sanghera, owners of San Group, wait for the official opening ceremony for their brand new mill at their Coulson site near Port Alberni, B.C. on Friday, May 29, 2020. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

San Group B Mill project manager Scott Davidson, a fourth-generation millwright, moved to Port Alberni 20 years ago to work for San. He led the team that built the new mill. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Project Manager Scott Davidson from San Group prepares the log feeder and ring debarker to accept the first log at San Group’s new B Mill on Friday, May 29, 2020. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

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