Seven years ago, Western Forest Products officials announced that they were permanently closing the Woodfibre pulp mill on the northwestern shore of Howe Sound. At the time, the news was devastating to the entire community — Squamish was losing its largest employer, 323 well-paying jobs, and $2 million in tax revenue, fully 17 per cent of the District of Squamish’s annual cash intake.
Since then, the actual pulp-mill works have been sold to a company that said it intended to dismantle them and reassemble the whole thing in China. The 86-hectare property, which used to be the site of a vibrant company-run community, has since then been dormant — alternately the moorage site of an old ferry, a small hydroelectric project and little else.
This week’s news of a tentative sale of the property could well be the first inkling of a major rebirth. Or it could be the beginning of an oddball and ultimately disappointing entrepreneurial saga on the part of the as-yet-unknown new owners. Either way, news of a tentative sale of the property should be seen as a chance for Squamish to get back at least some of those lost jobs — to make something out of what’s essentially very little now.
It’s been said that the place would make a nice liquefied natural gas shipping port. Someone else suggested it could be a waste-to-energy production facility. Either would come with some caveats, to be sure, but would at least provide decent-paying jobs where there are none now.
It’s important, of course, that we keep our expectations modest here. One thing it’s likely not going to be is that squeaky-clean mega-computer-chip factory, employing hundreds, that every community hopes to attract under the heading of “economic development.” It’s most certainly not going to replace that $2M in tax revenue, at least not in the near term.
Squamish, though, recently attracted a growing, Burnaby-based firm to its modest technology sector. A request for expressions of interest has just gone out on the Oceanfront land, and the District just announced a plan to revitalize downtown over a 20-year period. The Sea to Sky Gondola is soon to be added to the town’s tourism offerings. Each is small, to be sure, but is it too much to hope that there may be at least a modest-sized snowball rolling downhill here?
— David Burke