A Surrey company is the buyer of Meadow Creek Cedar’s idled sawmill at Cooper Creek and its suspended forest license. Bob Bortolin of San Group, who appeared before Kaslo village council last night, said in an interview they want to re-open the mill as soon as possible.
“We are going to be manufacturing product and getting the mill fired up as quick as we can,” he told the Star. Although they brought in some people from the Lower Mainland to see what will be required for an initial start-up, Bortolin said they intend to hire locally and have already spoken with some former employees.
“Unfortunately over time there’s been vandalism, theft, and standard degrading of equipment when it sits [unused], but it’s not stopping us,” he said.
The sawmill, which has been idle since 2011, is projected to restart June 3. Other machine centres at the mill will follow once logging begins. A mill manager is expected to be named soon.
The operation will be renamed Meadow Creek Forest Products so potential customers don't mistakenly assume they deal exclusively with cedar, Bortolin said.
San Group was founded in the 1980s by brothers Kamal and Sukhi Sanghera. Bortolin said the company has 45 to 50 employees in the Lower Mainland and markets its products in Japan, China, India, and the US. He said the ownership is well versed in manufacturing and has been involved in sawmill startups in Europe.
In addition to Bortolin and the Sangheras, the management team includes Iqbal Deo, Neil Shimizu, Richard Zeller, and Andrew Cairns. Bortolin said they will be hands-on and won't run the operation from Surrey. The owners will visit regularly and at least initially, someone will be here every week.
Bortolin emphasized San Group is not affiliated with any other groups in its purchase of Meadow Creek Cedar and added that everyone they've spoken to so far has been very supportive. “People say ‘Great to hear you're coming back,’ because it’s not only the employment here, but the spinoff for other businesses.”
Kaslo Mayor Greg Lay welcomed the sale. “They want to build a strong and vibrant relationship with the village of Kaslo and area,” he said. “We want to create some jobs here. It’s critical to the survival of our community to have entrepreneurs who want to invest.”
The Meadow Creek license is believed to have millions of dollars in reforestation liabilities associated with it. “They have bought the company so they’ve bought the problems,” Lay noted.
Bortolin did not say specifically how they plan to address that backlog: "We are still evaluating it. Everything has to be looked at. We plan on abiding by all the rules and regulations."
The sale price has not been disclosed, but the previous owner was Dale Kooner, who acquired Meadow Creek Cedar in 2005 from a Japanese concern. In 2012, the Ministry of Forests suspended the company’s forest license for failing to meet reforestation obligations and also levied fines totalling more than $76,000.
Later that year, Kooner reached a management agreement with Blue Ridge Timber of South Slocan, which intended to rehabilitate the license and eventually buy it. However, the deal fell apart and earlier this year Kooner was served with a notice of license cancellation. The cancellation has been postponed in light of the sale to San Group.
Revenue from the Meadow Creek Cedar was used to prop up Kooner's Surrey blueberry farm. But last August, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency cancelled the registration of Can-Pacific Farms for failing to address issues around "sanitation, cleanliness, storage, and unavailable or inaccurate documentation."
The company's registration was suspended in April 2013. At the time the federal regulator said there was no food safety risk because the company wasn't producing any processed blueberries for export or interprovincial sale.
In Nelson provincial court this week, Judge Richard Hewson also granted a default judgement for $15,000 against Meadow Creek Cedar in a small claims action brought by Robert McGregor. Kooner did not appear in court to contest it.
(CORRECTIONS: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that San Group is from Delta and misspelled Richard Zeller's name.)