San Group’s remanufacturing plant is taking shape at the corner of Stamp Avenue and Roger Street in Port Alberni.
The forestry company already has a sawmill in Port Alberni, and they have been preparing this particular site for a remanufacturing plant, several specialty kilns and value-added machinery.
The frame for the fabric building was most noticeable to the public as it was going up, but it is only one facet of the plan for that site, says Bob Bortolin, vice-president of business development for the Surrey-based company.
Bortolin was in Port Alberni for a couple of weeks to oversee the project, which is slowly progressing despite a stagnant forestry market right now.
Concrete has been poured for an electrical room and transformer base. Technicians from Italy have come to the city to install machinery that were purchased from that country. Work has begun on a finger jointer purchased from Quebec. Another building will hold a saw that can cut a “cant”, or piece of wood sawn on three sides, into complete boards in one cut.
Two dry kilns will be installed as well as two specialty kilns that can do a smaller volume of product with different moisture content or smaller content.
A pole shed will be built later, behind the fabric building and kilns, to keep the wood dry after it comes out of the kilns.
San Group bought 25 acres of land from Catalyst Paper in the fall of 2018 in anticipation of this expansion. The original plan was to build a sawmill and the reman plant on the site, to expand their holdings in the Alberni Valley. The public was clear with its dislike about the sawmill being located so close to a residential area, so San Group revised its plans. The second sawmill is being built on the same site as the first one, the former Coulson Mill southwest of town.
“We’re very cognizant of the noise and we’re doing everything we can to minimize it. Also, we’re not going to be running 24 hours a day.” The kilns, which are closer to Stamp Avenue, will emit some steam but no noise, Bortolin said.
The switch has cost the company “a lot of money,” said Bortolin, but the owners didn’t want to wait until the market improved. “With the way the market is, we feel we’re going to poise ourselves that when the market comes back, we won’t have to start building at that time—we’re going to be ready for it.”
The expansion is taking longer than anticipated, Bortolin admitted. “Some of it’s the weather. We’ve got different demands coming from the marketplace, and we’re addressing those. We want to be able to come up with a facility that is manufacturing a variety of products—not just for the Canadian market or the U.S. market, but we’re looking worldwide.”
The mill will also be able to handle smaller trees, which will mean leaving less waste.
The equipment purchased for the new sawmill also had to be re-engineered for a different site. The manufacturers were in Port Alberni last week to inspect the work being done on the mill site and “they said it looks good,” Bortolin said. He anticipates the sawmill could start operation later this month.
Aside from the remanufacturing plant and kilns, San Group has also been clearing the land that surrounds the working part of its new property. Most visible to the public are the trees that have come down along Stamp Avenue, and in the corner bordering Stamp and Roger Street.
Bortolin said many of the cottonwoods along Stamp Avenue were dangerous due to rot, and had to come down for safety.
“We’re trying to make it look nice down there,” he said. “We want it to look nice. We have clients coming in from all over the world and it’s a showpiece.”