Last Thursday’s rally at the ‘curtailed’ Somass Mill was a mix of skepticism and hope for the future of the forest industry in the Alberni Valley.
Skepticism because a major forestry company has indefinitely ‘curtailed’ production at one of the oldest mills in Port Alberni, without definitely closing it down. Hope because someone has come forward offering to buy and re-open the mill, investing money in its aging infrastructure.
Such a purchase would be welcome news to the nearly 100 union employees who haven’t worked in many months due to the shut-down at Somass Mill. It would also be a reversal of a trend the forest industry has experienced for nearly three decades now in the Alberni Valley.
Between 1980 and the late 1990s, more than 1,700 forestry jobs were lost in the Alberni Valley. The number increased by several hundred in the mid-2000s when Catalyst Paper shut down part of its operations.
And yet, there is still a demand for wood product from the Alberni Valley.
At last Thursday’s Tyee Landing rally, Port Alberni Mayor Mike Ruttan said progress ‘does not happen if you aren’t prepared to think about the possibilities for the future.’ Somass Mill owner Western Forest Products is not acting like the mill has a future.
The forest industry will never look like it did in Port Alberni’s heyday, when the mills were full of workers earning top dollar. There is, however, a future for the forest industry, and there’s no reason it can’t flourish in a different manner in Port Alberni.
It is issues like these that underline how important a national forest strategy is, especially for British Columbian communities such as the Alberni Valley. Alberni’s MP and MLA both say they are working toward such a strategy—it will be interesting to see whether their efforts come to fruition.
— Alberni Valley News