WFP upgrading Saltair mill

A $16-million upgrade announced last week will help protect the 140 jobs at the Saltair Sawmill.

Lee Doney

Lee Doney

A $16-million upgrade announced last week will help protect the 140 jobs at the Saltair Sawmill.

Provincial government ministers and Western Forest Products (WFP) employees gathered at the mill in Ladysmith last week to announce the funding, which is the first phase in a $200-million investment announced by WFP in late 2011.

Before Christmas, WFP announced that it was going to invest $200 million over the next three years into its operations on Vancouver Island, and this is the first of those strategic investments, explained WFP vice-chairman Lee Doney.

The $16-million investment is the first phase of what will ultimately be a total reinvestment of about $40 million into the Saltair mill, he noted.

“The Saltair Sawmill employs 140 people, and this investment will ensure those 140 jobs are sustained,” said Doney. “This is the first capital in this mill since the mid-1990s. The improvements will make it the largest single-line sawmill on the coast of British Columbia.”

The Saltair Sawmill, built in 1972, converts coastal mid-size logs into high-value specialized products in hemlock, Douglas fir and Western red cedar and ships product to Japan, China, North America, Europe and Australia.

The Saltair mill currently produces about 160 million board feet per year. After the improvements, the mill will be able to process more than 200 million board feet.

The mill will undergo a two-year retrofit of about $40 million, and this first phase will provide upgrades to the edgers, the stackers and the sorters, explained Doney.

“It will increase our production by 15 per cent, it will lower our per-unit costs, and it will ensure competitiveness with the global producers in varying markets,” he said. “The investment itself will infuse $16 million into this local economy and more importantly, it will sustain those 140 jobs in this local community.”

For Steve Thomson, provincial minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, last week’s announcement shows WFP’s positive outlook for the future of the forest industry in B.C.

“I think all of you know that Western is the Island’s largest forestry employer, so it’s really gratifying and great to see their commitment to the future of forestry here on Vancouver Island and in the province of British Columbia,” he said. “As Lee mentioned, this $16 million announced today is going to make it easier to ship premium products into Japan and their western red cedar products into the U.S., and with the future investments to come, it’s going to improve the efficiency and capital operations of this mill.”

Agriculture Minister Don McRae highlighted the importance of forestry in B.C.’s history during the funding announcement.

“As a student of history — and as some of you may know, I also am a high school history teacher by trade — I’m constantly reminded that B.C. is over 140 years old,” he said. “One hundred and 40 years of history is tied to the resource sector, whether it is on British Columbia’s mainland or on Vancouver Island. The reality is resource jobs are what built this province. It is so nice to be on the east coast of Vancouver Island today supporting WFP as they invest. They are not only growing the industry, but they are also defending the industry.

“There are 140 jobs in this mill, and whether you are a young man or woman in your early 20s or perhaps you’ve worked for the company for 30-plus years, we need all those jobs in British Columbia.”