By Laura Keil and Andru McCracken

The headrig sawmill will process logs that are bigger than the larger companies want. The mill will operate at the Valemount Industrial Park south of the village. The mill still needs to be assembled./ LAURA KEIL

The Valemount Community Forest has purchased a sawmill and plans to operate an 8-person crew on the Industrial Park lands south of Valemount.

VCF manager Craig Pryor made the announcement at a VCF-sponsored BBQ at Centennial Park July 19th.

Craig Pryor announced the sawmill purchase to people gathered at the BBQ on July 19th. / LAURA KEIL

“The VCF has completed the first of many steps towards setting up and operating a locally-owned VCF sawmill. It’s something we’ve talked about for a long time and we’re finally doing something now. So it’s exciting and scary all at once.”

The mill is a head-rig sawmill in a newer carriage and it will process larger logs that the big companies don’t want. Pryor said there are many drainages in this area with large diameter wood. Target species will be Hemlock, Douglas Fir and oversized Spruce.

The VCF said they are looking to buy a second mill to process the logs that are too small to sell to the big companies.

When asked whether the VCF had enough fibre to operate a mill, Pryor noted the VCF has an annual allowable cut of 100,000 cubic metres. Half of that is already committed to other companies, but he believes they can operate.

VCF Chair Ainslie Jackman said operating details are preliminary, but the mill will likely produce cants and timbers for Canadian and American markets. They won’t be producing 2x4s or 2x6s, as they can’t compete on price with the larger mills.

Jackman said the closure of the Vavenby Mill clinched their decision. Another small mill just north of Valemount, the Hauer Bros. Mill, also shut down this past year.

Pryor says they still have to work out the details in terms of markets and mill waste but they are inching closer.

“We’re excited to bring manufacturing jobs back to Valemount. It’s been long overdue.”

Valemount had a large sawmill which shut down permanently in 2006 after the Province introduced rules liberalizing where logs can be processed. 130 employees were laid off and the mill was torn down in 2009.

This will be the second mill on the Industrial Park lands. The other mill, Cedar Valley Holdings Ltd. processes only cedar and is owned privately.

Valemount resident Shirley Gonyou loves the idea of the new mill.

“I think it is a great idea because there aren’t any decent paying jobs left in the valley really,” said Gonyou.

Gonyou is retired now, but she used to be one of the highest paid employees at the old Slocan-, Canfor-, and later Carrier Lumber-owned mill.

“When they shut the mill down that was it. In order for people to survive, husband and wife, they had to work at mediocre paying jobs in order to make it.”

Gonyou is not blind to the major mills shutting down around the province and wonders if a new Valemount mill can make a go of it.

“Is it going to be viable? If so, for how long?”

Pryor is aware they need to be careful.

“You can’t operate inefficiently in this market and stay alive very long.”

But he says they hope to take advantage of different markets.

“What we’re trying to set up is something that will be flexible for markets for years to come so we can jump back and forth and do different things to make it work.”

He says they are excited about the impact the new jobs could have on the community.