September 12, 2017
The Comox Valley Project Watershed Society
and K’ómoks First Nation announce deal to purchase
the Field’s Sawmill Site (Kus-kus-sum)
(Comox Valley, BC) The Comox Valley Project Watershed Society and the K’ómoks First Nation have reached an agreement with Interfor to purchase and restore the former Field sawmill site on the Courtenay River near the 17th street bridge.
“After several years of negotiations, we are pleased to announce that we have an accepted offer to purchase the property from Interfor,” stated Tim Ennis, Director for Project Watershed. “Project Watershed, the K’ómoks First Nation and Interfor are all extremely excited to see this project take a positive step forward, but now it is time for the heavy lifting to start.”
In 2014, the Comox Valley Project Watershed Society began discussions with Interfor Corporation who own the site and ascertained that they were open to and supportive of a conservation solution to the land. Early conversations with both the K’ómoks First Nation and the City of Courtenay confirmed that Project Watershed’s proposal to purchase and restore the land was possible. While Project Watershed is recognized internationally for its marine stewardship, restoration and science capabilities, it does not hold title to land. Both the K’ómoks First Nation and City of Courtenay have stepped forward by agreeing to take on the role as landowners, once the acquisition is complete.
The K’ómoks First Nation’s interests in the site span millennia. In ancient times, the site was just across the river from a village called Kus-kus-sum. The property itself was used as the final resting place of K’ómoks ancestors. After consultation with the Nation, the name Kus-kus-sum was chosen as the new name for the property. Chief Nicole Rempel and Band Administrator, Tina McLean have joined the Project Watershed negotiating committee along side Ennis and Project Watershed Directors Bill Heidrick and Don Castleden.
The City of Courtenay stands to gain significant benefit from the project including the mitigation of flood impacts that will come from the restored site’s ability to absorb floodwaters. Councillors Doug Hillian and Rebecca Lennox have been assigned by the City to liaison with Project Watershed on the project. In June 2017, Council unanimously supported a motion agreeing in-principle to share in ownership of the property alongside KFN. “The City of Courtenay’s Council and senior staff, have been incredibly supportive of this project, and we are certainly grateful for this support,” stated Bill Heidrick, Director for Project Watershed.
“Now that we have agreed on the basic parameters of a deal, we need to negotiate a contract of purchase and sale and work towards removing conditions,” explained Ennis. “This will involve negotiating specific details with the City, the Nation and other governments with jurisdiction in the estuary. From there we will need to roll up our sleeves and begin fundraising in earnest. We have a limited amount of time to raise the funds required to complete the purchase and restoration work. Failure to do so could see the property go back on the market. The total project cost is estimated at $6M.”
Project Watershed is committed to restoring the decommissioned site with a view to returning the site as much as possible to its natural state, preserving it for future generations. “We have been successful at securing funds from federal, provincial, private and international funding agencies to support the conservation and sustainability of many vital areas in and around the Comox Valley. We are confident in our ability to protect and support this site’s ecological integrity,” stated Dan Bowen, Technical Director for Project Watershed.
“Over the next several years, by submitting grant applications, and obtaining contributions from local businesses, residents and service groups we will bring together the resources needed to achieve this vision. It will be a total community effort”, states Project Watershed Treasurer Brian Storey. Project Watershed Director Kathy Haigh, and Chair Paul Horgan are heading up the fundraising committee. “Ultimately, we seek to un-pave a parking lot and put a paradise”, says Haigh. “We have established a local fundraising target of $500,000 towards that end, and hope to bring in the balance from Provincial, Federal, international, corporate and other private donors”.
The Comox Valley Project Watershed Society and the K’ómoks First Nation looks forward to updating the public, as more information is available about this land purchase. Project Watershed invites the people of the Comox Valley to help launch this initiative at our Keeping It Living kick-off event sponsored by The Old House Hotel and Spa, 5:30pm on Sept 21st on the lawn in front of Local’s restaurant on 1730 Riverside Lane.
About the Comox Valley Project Watershed Society
For more information, please visit the Project Watershed website at www.projectwatershed.ca
About K’ómoks First Nation
The K’ómoks First Nation is located in the heart of the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. Membership is currently 336 members within four clans: Sathloot, Sasitla, Leeksun and Puntledge. Two cultures are identified in their community: Coast Salish (Island Comox Speaking peoples) and Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwak̓wala speaking peoples). K’ómoks originally occupied sites in Kelsey Bay, Quinsum, Campbell River, Quadra Island, Kye Bay and along the Puntledge Estuary. For more information, please visit www.komoks.ca.
For more information, please contact:
Paul Horgen, Board Chair, Project Watershed P: 250-702-0864 E: email@example.com
Tina McLean, Band Administrator, K’ómoks First Nation, P: 250.339.4545 ext. 105, E: firstname.lastname@example.org
History of the Fields Sawmill Site
The original Fields Mill was started in 1947 on the current site of Arden Elementary school. The Comox Rd site was cleared of trees in the late 1940’s and the mill moved its operation to the Courtenay River location, below the 17th Street Bridge in 1949. The Fields family retired the mill in 1969 selling it to Errol Zinck and Bill Phillips, two employees at the time (“A Look Back into The History of The Comox Valley, Field’s Sawmill”, 2013).
In the 1970’s, the mill owners were filling the marsh area between Courtenay River and Comox Rd, with an assortment of chips, oil cans and wire etc. Concerned residents stopped this and the landfilling was halted. In 1974, the Provincial NDP government paid $95,850 for 25.5 acres to prevent the owners at the time from destroying what is now called Hollyhock Marsh, reports Betty Donaldson (2010).
The owners of the mill sold it to Peter Gregory of Gregory Manufacturing Ltd. in 1973. Gregory then sold the mill to Primex Forest Products. The mill at that time was cutting and selling lumber (yellow) cedar to both the American and the Japanese markets. In the 1970s, the operation employed over 100 people and, at its peak 160. (photo 2 Mill at peak operation). In 2000, Primex started facing economic problems and began employee lay-offs. In 2001 Interfor bought out Primex and acquired the Fields Sawmill.
The Mill experienced hard times again in 2003 – 2004. The mill closed often and in 2003 it operated at a loss of $8 million. The mill was decommissioned and closed officially in 2006.
In 2006, Interfor demolished the mill, auctioned off the equipment, and paid out severance to its employees. At this time, reclamation of the site was also undertaken to safely remove and dispose of industrial toxins. A number of test wells were drilled to determine the quantity and nature of toxic materials in the soils. Concrete was broken up, and toxic soils were excavated and removed from the site. The holes were backfilled with clean soils and the wells tested again to verify the site was reclaimed. The Province issued a Certificate of Compliance, verifying that the site now meets the highest standards.
The property was offered for sale in 2008, but despite several offers to purchase, Interfor has chosen to work with Project Watershed and the larger community to achieve a conservation vision for the property.