This photo was taken at McLean Mill on Wednesday, Dec. 16, at the end of the rail line after cleanup of the oil spill. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)

This photo was taken at McLean Mill on Wednesday, Dec. 16, at the end of the rail line after cleanup of the oil spill. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)

EDITORIAL: McLean Mill has turned into a complete train wreck

National Historic Site facing a million-dollar environmental cleanup

Taking a reactionary approach to one of the city’s most visible historic attractions is turning out to be an expensive one.

McLean Mill National Historic Site has been a shadow of what it once was for a long time. At its height, the Tin Pants Theatre performed regularly, the Beaufort Gang “robbed” the steam train to the delight of visitors and residents alike, the steam mill ran two shows per day and the Old Time Logging Show rounded out the picture.

While Port Alberni-based naysayers have been calling for the mill’s demise for years, the McLean Mill excursion was regularly the most sought-after out-trip in Nanaimo’s cruise ship industry. Rail enthusiasts travelled from as far away as Sweden to ride the stream train.

Now the train has been off the rails for two years, the steam mill idle for longer than that and a tanker full of bunker oil is at the centre of an environmental mess. An expensive one, at that.

The city has no one to blame but itself for the million-dollar mess. A report was released in June 2019 that pointed out this particular hazard—among others—and it wasn’t acted upon.

For years it seems the city has swept the mill to the side, only hauling it out when the complaining gets too loud. The shortlived McLean Mill Society, which was supposed to give the city arms-length supervision, bombed.

While a good idea on paper, the way it was implemented alienated the volunteers operating key parts of the mill. It also clouded accountability, leaving many wondering who exactly was in charge of what?

McLean Mill was granted national historic status two decades ago because it was the last operational historic sawmill in Canada. It was something to be proud of. Not anymore.

— Alberni Valley News

McLean MillPort Alberni