Suki, left, and Kamal Sanghera of San Group take Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions on a tour of the laminator that has already been tested at the company’s remanufacturing plant on Stamp Avenue. The reman plant is due to open in late October or early November. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

San Group hoping to have new remanufacturing plant up and running by mid-October.

Changes to lumber regulations aimed at increasing domestic production are welcome news to San Group owners Kamal and Suki Sanghera.

“This is the best thing that will happen for the manufacturing facility, and the best thing that will happen for the community,” Kamal Sanghera said Thursday, Sept. 17 during a tour of the company’s remanufacturing plant under construction in Port Alberni.

“Like everybody says, cut less and produce more. Let’s utilize our fibre more intelligently, more locally right here. Why ship the fibre unfinished?”

Changes to export requirements for sawn-wood products and lumber made from western red cedar or cypress go into effect Sept. 30 under the Manufactured Forest Products Regulation (MFPR). The changes, implemented by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development are intended to increase the amount of processing of wood products done in B.C. The idea is to create more B.C. jobs rather than exporting raw logs to be processed elsewhere.

The MFPR, introduced in 2003, defines the criteria products must meet to be considered manufactured under the Forest Act. Under the current regulation, logs that are squared off to a maximum dimension of 0.2 square metres (about 17 feet by 17 feet) are considered sawn-wood products and may be exported without further manufacture. The new regulation will lower the maximum dimension to 0.1 square metres, or 12 feet by 12 feet.

The changes were supposed to come into effect July 1 but were postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

The news couldn’t come at a better time for San Group, they hope to have the first piece of wood through their remanufacturing plant by mid-October, Suki Sanghera said. They are only a few months behind after a fire destroyed one building and a finger-joiner onsite. COVID-19 restrictions have further complicated matters, Kamal Sanghera said.

Keeping more fibre in B.C. is a point San Group has been trying to get across ever since they bought Coulson Sawmill and took over operations. Kamal cringes when he sees ships full of raw logs preparing to leave Alberni Inlet.

“The government and we pulled together to make changes for our communities…how are we going to get out of the pandemic? Create jobs locally right here. Keep the community strong. If you’re going to keep shipping our resources out, keep shipping our jobs out, how are we going to keep our communities strong?”

Sanghera said San’s solution is technology. Both sawmills and the reman plant use top-of-the-line technology to select and grade lumber before it is manufactured. San is setting itself up as a “harvest to home” entity on Vancouver Island and has invested “hundreds of millions of dollars” in the process, he said.

“With the new technology, with the new way, we can manufacture economically,” Sanghera said. “Other countries are competing with us with labour. We have to compete with technology and know-how.”

Seeing what San Group is doing at their remanufacturing plant and sawmills is encouraging to Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions. “It’s really exciting to see how much progress has been made here over the last few months. Walking through this facility, seeing the equipment being used, the technology, the safety improvements to your average sawmill or processing facility, it really is like stepping into the future,” she added.

“It is exciting to see this kind of innovation going on in our community. It’s a lot of new jobs, and different types of forestry jobs for our community. That’s what’s exciting: it’s not your average sawmill jobs. It’s more people working on computers rather than physically working on the equipment.

“It’s innovation-driven, and that’s what we’re really proud of in this community.”

San Group’s remanufacturing plant includes the latest technology, like a “lumber MRI” that will be able to scan lumber for its quality. Owner Kamal Sanghera says technology will allow B.C. forestry companies to compete internationally. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)