Hammond mill reaches out to neighbours

Interfor looking to sell off some of its unused property

  • Jan. 11, 2013 6:00 p.m.

Interfor’s Hammond cedar mill has some spare property that could be put up for sale, if there’s interest.

One lot near the mill’s office is idle and vacant on Maple Crescent, and could go on the market.

If the offer is right, the company could consider moving its office and parking lot, freeing up two more lots, for a total of 2.4 acres.

Then there’s some waterfront property, about 11 choice waterfront acres the company no longer needs farther up the Fraser River, just west of the Port Haney West Coast Express station.

Interfor vice-president Ric Slaco told Maple Ridge council about the properties at its Monday meeting as part of an update and a new attempt to connect with its neighbours.

“We’ve had a pretty rough last couple of years,” Slaco said.

Conditions remain tough in the forest industry for cedar, despite the latest uptake in the construction lumber market.

Despite marginal returns, Interfor has poured millions into the mill, $7.8 million in the last three years, to stay modern and efficient.

The mill is 102 years old, employs about 165 people and is the largest cedar mill in the world, supplying about 15 per cent of the global market.

While it’s modern, it also operates in a high-cost environment, produce using smaller logs and has to compete with non-wood products.

“We can’t continue to stay idle and remain competitive,” Slaco said.

While there are no guarantees, the company has no plans to move or shut down the mill. But it does want to operate efficiently, dispose of its unused property and connect with its host community.

Interfor’s presentation came at a propitious time.

An area plan for Hammond that will determine the future residential, industrial and recreational mix, is next on Maple Ridge’s planning list, after it finalizes its plans for Albion flats.

Slaco added that while Interfor has been focusing on modernizing and surviving in a tough market, it may have been taking the community for granted. If the company is going to be successful there should be some kind of relationship with the community, he added.

That could include some kind of public access to its waterfront properties, he added.

That prompted Coun. Bob Masse to mention the Experience the Fraser Project, the Metro Vancouver project of create jogging and hiking trails from Vancouver to Hope on both sides of the Fraser River.

Slaco said its properties on Maple Crescent likely would suit industrial use more than residential because they’re on the railway.

“I’m thrilled that you’re here. I think this is a great opportunity,” said Coun. Al Hogarth. He said the properties on Maple Crescent have “phenomenal potential.”

He said the company’s waterfront properties could provide part of a public connection between Port Haney and Hammond.

“It’s rather exciting.”

Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin said public access to the river could also have potential, perhaps in connecting portions of waterfront trails between Port Haney and Hammond. But topography could prevent a continuous route along the shore.

“It’s worth the conversation,” he added.

Slaco said the company plants 1.6 million trees yearly.

Long-time resident Eric Phillips added that there used to be a public wharf at the foot of Princess Street, as well as a road through the mill grounds, allowing access from the river to Kent Street. The mill has always had a presence in the community, he added, pointing out that Hammond community centre was made from the lumber from the mill.

“I know a lot of people who retired from the mill, who worked at the mill. The mill’s been a boon to the community since it opened in 1908.”