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Elk Falls Mill sale catches Campbell River by surprise

Harold Jahn - Kristen Douglas/The Mirror
Harold Jahn
— image credit: Kristen Douglas/The Mirror

A new industrial park on the former Catalyst mill site could create up to 600 jobs within three years in Campbell River, according to the buyer of the 400-acre industrial site.

Harold Jahn, Edmonton-based owner and director of Pacifica Deep Sea Terminals, signed an $8.6 million agreement with Catalyst Paper to purchase the Elk Falls mill site.

“We’ve had a lot of positive response from the community and we met with council. We met with the mayor and everybody’s quite excited,” Jahn said Friday afternoon just outside city hall following a day of meetings. “We recently made an offer to purchase the Elk Falls site to (create) a deep sea terminal and an industrial park with 50 new tenants to create sustainable jobs for the community.”

The sale is expected to close and become official on Sept. 5. That will complete Catalyst’s bid review process which began earlier this year.

Catalyst announced last Thursday it had reached an agreement with Pacifica.

“We are very pleased to have attracted an experienced developer with the capacity and an industrial concept that will fully utilize the site’s infrastructure and bring new business and jobs to the region,” said Kevin J. Clarke, Catalyst president and chief executive officer.

Catalyst had been seeking a buyer for its property since it permanently shut down its Elk Falls operation in 2010. Since then, equipment has been decommissioned and demolition work completed.

According to Rivercorp CEO Vic Goodman, Jahn took everyone at city hall by surprise.

“Harold flew in under the radar,” Goodman said. “They came into this thing in the eleventh hour in the bid process. Now we’re identifying him through (Thursday’s) press release.”

Rivercorp had been working with Catalyst to try and attract an investor but Goodman could say little until now.

“We knew there was a sales process going on but there’s some confidentiality and we can’t go waving our arms saying ‘hey, something’s going to happen!’” Goodman said.

Goodman sat down with Jahn and city council Friday morning and hopes to meet again with him one-on-one to connect him with local businesses.

“He’s Alberta-based and doesn’t have the network we have,” Goodman said. “I hope he allows us to work with him to connect him with other businesses.”

Jahn, who owns and operates three industrial parks in Alberta, plans to bring some of his existing companies –  a developer of algae based solar cells, a lithium battery manufacturing facility, an ocean wave energy equipment fabrication, and an electric vehicle assembly plant – to the former Catalyst site. Outside companies will also lease some of the buildings on site from Pacifica.

“There will be leases for different companies and an office building, like an incubator-style office, so small companies could come in and use the space,” Jahn said. “Some of the companies will be mine but the majority will be third-party companies, some from California, Nevada, B.C., and Asia. We’re hoping for 400 to 600 full-time jobs in about three years. That’s my intent, to create jobs in smaller communities.”

Jahn said he’s been working with about 20 firms since he first began pursuit of a deep sea terminal.

He was originally looking at property in Kitimat, south of Terrace, but then the Catalyst property became available.

“It’s an excellent spot,” Jahn said. “The infrastructure was already here, there’s a lot of professional people here, it’s a beautiful community, it provides access to the U.S. market, the Asian market, and there’s an existing workforce here.”

Jahn incorporated Pacifica in 2008 and worked through 2010 and 2011 to pursue the Kitimat property which he said just “didn’t work out.”

Now he’s content with the property he will likely own as of Sept. 5.

Goodman is thrilled Jahn chose to invest in Campbell River.

“This will hopefully put Campbell River back on the map as the industrial base of Vancouver Island (and) diversify the economy of Campbell River and stabilize the economy long-term,” Goodman said. “It’s very exciting to be able to do something with that site.”

The usually outspoken Mayor Walter Jake wouldn’t comment on the agreement until the deal closes next month.

But as Jakeway left city hall Friday afternoon after meeting with Jahn, it was obvious by the grin on his face that the mayor is excited about Campbell River’s future.

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