San Group Mill owners Kamal and Suki Sanghera have thrown down the gauntlet versus competitor Western Forest Products and say they want to purchase all of WFP’s assets in the Alberni Valley—including WFP’s tree farm licence, Somass Mill and Alberni Pacific Division (APD) Sawmill.
The Sangheras spoke of their commitment to bring forestry jobs back to the Alberni Valley during a luncheon Wednesday at their mill on the Alberni Inlet. That would mean keeping raw logs in Port Alberni mills, and not shipping them overseas, as has been the practice for a number of years now.
“Every month we are shipping out close to 130,000 cubic metres of raw logs,” Kamal Sanghera said.
“Our game is to keep those logs right here in Port Alberni and create jobs right here.”
Sanghera spoke Wednesday in front of San Mill’s employees and invited members of the community as well as dignitaries like BC Liberal leadership candidate Dianne Watts, who said she supports the creation of a comprehensive forestry strategy that would outline sustainable access to fibre for B.C. mills. Watts is the former mayor and federal MP of Surrey, where the San Group is based.
The Sangheras purchased Coulson Mill from Wayne Coulson last spring and have been investing in it. They added a second shift in June, and installed a new moulding line in the summer.
San Group spent five years working with Coulson Mill when it was under Coulson family ownership. “That’s how we ended up buying it, because we depend on Coulson,” Sanghera said.
Sanghera announced Wednesday that the San Mill will be adding a second shift to its remanufacturing plant and bringing back the weekend shift in January 2018. “Hopefully at the end of January we will have three shifts on,” he said.
They expressed an interest earlier this month during a rally for Somass Mill—owned by Western Forest Products and shut down this fall—to purchase the mill if WFP is willing. Kamal Sanghera repeated it Wednesday.
“We are ready to take over APD today and Somass and their TFL. We are ready and willing to take over today and have their mill running in the next 30 days,” he said.
Community support will be important if they are to kickstart the Alberni Valley’s forestry industry again, he said.
“We know how to run a mill. We know how to export wood…as a community you have to do your job and make this happen.”
Norm McLeod, vice-president of United Steelworkers Loc. 1-1937, said the union supports San Group. “The Steelworkers are totally enthralled with the vision that the San Group has,” he said. McLeod said the Steelworkers are circulating a petition in town to force Western Forest Products to “either restart production at the Somass Sawmill or sell the sawmill and property to someone that will.”
“Port Alberni needs a good change in luck and we think San Group is it. We’re here to help them,” McLeod said.
Port Alberni Mayor Mike Ruttan said the San Group “has shown us they are committed to our growth, our economic growth.”
Ruttan said the city’s historic prosperity—when Port Alberni was the centre of the forest industry—is irrelevant now, and that the city needs to be looking ahead to new economic prosperity. It’s a future that can include high value added fibre products with a company such as San Group, he added.
Ruttan said he has a meeting with WFP officials on Friday to discuss whether they would be willing to sell any of their assets in the Alberni Valley to a willing buyer. A spokesperson for WFP, reached Thursday, said the company does not comment on rumours. “The Alberni Pacific mill is continuing to operate and there is no change being made at this time,”” she said.
Sanghera reiterated his company’s desire to buy WFP’s assets, although he wouldn’t commit to a price.
“We will go on record, we are willing to sit together and discuss…whatever (WFP) wants to do with it (their tree farm licence). We will go through that process, see what their answers are, and then we will put up a price,” Sanghera said.
“We are interested in the TFL, we are interested in APD, we are interested in Somass—the whole Port Alberni (operation). I’ll go farther: if they want to sell anything else, we’re interested,” he said.