Valemount Community Forest buys old mill site property

Map of the site: (area drawn is approximate)

By: Korie Marshall

On Nov. 26th, the Valemount Community Forest and representatives from Northern Development Initiative Trust and Columbia Basin Trust made a long-awaited announcement – the Community Forest has purchased the old Carrier mill site (formerly Valemount Forest Products) in Cedarside, just south of Valemount.

Craig Pryor, Manager of the Community Forest, says the long term goal for the site is to allow economic growth and job creation.

He says the site will be turned into a business/industrial park that will allow multiple users to set up different types of industry such as wood manufacturing facilities, fibre based industry, sort yards, re-load yards, greenhouses, geothermal and on and on. He adds the Community Forest is open to all ideas that create economic growth and jobs. He says current industrial needs, changing politics and climate change can create opportunities for the Robson Valley.

Pryor says the 240-acre site is an enviable piece of industrial land with year-round highway access, three phase power and a rail spur. The site is located on a major transportation route that accesses large population centres, two major ports and areas of high industrial activity.

During a tour of the site on Wednesday, Pryor pointed out some existing buildings which are still useful, as well as the office space, parts of which could be rented out. The scale on the site has already been re-decked, and Pryor says they are bringing a local electrician in to check out the electrical systems at the scale and outlying buildings before re-energizing them. Pryor says it is just a precaution, as the power has been disconnected for some time. Carrier Lumber continues to rent some of the existing office space from the Community Forest.

The CF has been storing and sorting logs on another section of industrial land along Cedarside Road, as a way to help provide needed logs to small local operations. Pryor says they will likely start using their own property for that now, though final decisions haven’t been made yet.

“We hope to have a solid plan by next summer,” says Prior, “the challenge being to find the right fit for unknown customers.”

“Though we wish to move as quickly as possible, experience has also taught us to proceed cautiously so we can do it right and provide economic diversity for the future.”

When asked if he and the board would consider geothermal direct-use and a district heating system, Pryor said “absolutely.” He said the board has had discussions with the Village and touched on it with Borealis Geopower. “I think it would be a great addition to the yard and could open up many opportunities for different types of industry. We’ll look into the options more over the winter.”

The $850,000 purchase was made possible in part by a grant of $250,000 from Northern Development Initiative Trust and another grant of $200,000 from Columbia Basin Trust, the largest grants offered from either organization. Pryor says the Community Forest kicked in the rest for the purchase, as well as another $30,000 in closing costs, and will also be investing in upgrading the infrastructure and working on site planning to bring in future tenants.

Pryor said the sale completed Nov 1st, but CBT and NDIT did not want to announce the deal during the election process as they did not want to interfere, or be perceived to interfere with the election.

“We did not want to steal their thunder by announcing without them, so we waited,” said Pryor.

Cynthia Piper has been chair of the Community Forest since its inception. At the announcement on Wednesday, Piper introduced the rest of the current board: Gordon Carson, Ainsley Jackman, Vern Mickelson, Sandy Salt, Gerry Piper and Anne Yanciw.

“We have worked extremely hard to get where we are,” said Piper, crediting the two managers, first Shane Bressette and now Craig Pryor. “They have moved us along to places we never dreamed we’d get to.”

Janine North, CEO of NDIT was on hand for announcement at the Valemount Visitor Information Centre.

“This building is near and dear to my heart,” said North. “It was the first project we ever funded as a trust.”

She says coming up on its first decade, the Northern Trust has grown from $185 million to just over $230 million, with $120 million being invested in communities across 75 per cent of the province. “Projects like this make a difference for communities’ quality of life, potential for jobs, economic opportunities, and business – we know it is business that provides those jobs and makes things happen.”

North says she is exceptionally proud to be a “small part” in the project by providing $250,000. “The real work is done here.”

Valemount Mayor Andru McCracken said “It has been my pleasure as Mayor to watch the work of the Community Forest, to see them connect with partners, and make amazing things happen.” He said he wished Lynda Lafleur, CBT’s Community Liaison for the Northwest basin, could have made it to the announcement, because she helped the project make sense to the funders. McCracken echoed a quote from former CBT Chair Garry Merkel, saying it is the reflection of the great work in the communities that makes the Trust look so great.

Mayor Elect Jeannette Townsend, who was involved in the creation of the Community Forest, commended Piper and the Community Forest Board, and staff. “We are fortunate to have them, and I wish them continued success. The people of Valemount are going to benefit from their hard and persistent work.”

Janey Weeks, staff of the Community Forest read a letter from MLA Shirley Bond, who was not able to join the announcement as she is currently in the Legislature in Victoria. “This is long-awaited and exciting news for the Village of Valemount, and I know first-hand the hard work involved,” said Bond in her letter.

Pryor says he and the board have started a discussion on a name for the industrial/business park, but have not decided yet, and board members are bringing their suggestions to the next meeting.