ALR Conditional Approval

Gateway Campaigners and Farmland/Food Security Advocates –

 

Within hours of the Vancouver Sun hitting the paper boxes on Friday morning (with Larry Pynn’s story about construction on the South Fraser Perimeter Road starting before the ALC approval), the ALC responded by conditionally approving the decision.

 

Here’s the direct link to the decision:  http://www.alc.gov.bc.ca/application_status/Docs/38351d1.pdf

 

Given the timing, I can’t help but wonder if the Commission (which is supposed to be arms’ length from government) was in any way pressured to issue its decision to take the heat off.

 

This decision appears to rely on two problematic foundations: community need and net agricultural benefit.

 

Was the Decision Influenced by Politically-appointed Panel?

Another side of the decision, is that it was made by the South Coast Panel – a panel made up of Liberal party supporters. John Tomlinson (Langley) was a provincial Liberal constituency executive, fundraiser and generous donor. Michael Bose (Surrey) while generally very pro-agriculture, was nominated by former Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum. I see some positive signs of Michael’s finger prints on the decision, and particularly the requirement that the Hamming farm be given replacement land of equal agricultural capability. That echoes of the City of Surrey’s agriculture by-law (probably the most progressive in the province) that requires for every acre the City excludes from the ALR, it adds 2 acres of equal agricultural capability.

 

Community Need

The 2005-2008 Service Plan for the ALC specifies the conditions under which the Commission may “exclude” land.

 

The Commission also may exclude suitable agricultural land to meet community needs in cases where no alternatives exist

 

But the Agricultural Land Commission Act does not treat roads and highways as exclusions: they are considered a “non-farm use” and although the land is essentially permanently lost to agricultural productivity, the land is still counted as being in the ALR. (One of the founders of both the ALR and the Farmland Defence League, Harold Steves estimates that approximately 30% of the Fraser Valley’s ALR is under “non-farm use” )

 

http://66.51.172.116/Portals/0/Downloads/Community_need_and_the_ALR_legal_review.pdf Is the link to a legal opinion commissioned in 2007 by Smart Growth BC, which concludes that “community need” is beyond the spectrum of the Commission’s authority. Since this opinion was issued, the Commission have ceased to use the language “Community Need” but continue to write decisions, such as the SFPR decision, that are clearly influenced by considerations of community need.

 

Net Agricultural Benefit

The ALC stated that the mitigation measures (and particularly the drainage) will vastly enhance agricultural productivity throughout Delta, turning the South Fraser Perimeter Road into a benefit to agriculture.

 

Although we have never obtained a legal opinion specific to ‘net agricultural benefit’, it is believed that this consideration is beyond the scope of the ALC, for much the same reasons as the ‘community need’ benefit.

 

Net agricultural benefit was offered – and strenuously fought – by Harold Steves and the Garden City Lands Coalition on the application to exclude Richmond’s Garden City Lands. Environmental lawyer Bill Andrews wrote a legal opinion for the Boundary Bay Conservation Committee in their fight against Ron Toigo’s removal of 28 acres of ALR for upscale housing development in the middle of the Tsawwassen Golf Course.

 

Harold Steves’ basic assertions on this issue is that agricultural drainage is, like any community service (roads, health care, etc) paid for by the tax payers and must not be a bargaining chip to enable the destruction of farmland.

 

What are the real costs of the mitigation measures?

http://www.vancouversun.com/Commission+gives+reluctant+okay+farmland+loss+highway/1051335/story.html  December 9th Vancouver Sun – Farmland Defence League

 

  • The ALC told me that the costs of the mitigation measures they made conditions of their approval will cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars.  It is interesting that the BC government is only offering up $26 million. Gateway 40 reps – myself (Fraser Valley Conservation Coalition) and Don Hunt (Sunbury Neighbourhood Association) are having lunch with Bruce Ralston (North Surrey MLA and NDP Finance Critic – and a former very successful agriculture critic), and you can bet we’ll be discussing this.

 

  • Whether $26 million or $100 million, this is money that was not part of the public discussion of the South Fraser Perimeter Road. Is there some infinite pot of money – particularly in this economy – to throw at these projects?

 

Drainage Plans to Ignore Sensitive Environment of Burns Bog and Fraser River

It is extremely important for the habitat conservationists among us to note the qualifying statements of the Commission around drainage, and specifically that drainage is to serve the interests of agriculture and NOT environmental concerns. This could be the death knell to Burns Bog, whose hydrology – and relationship with the Fraser River – is certain to be seriously impacted by the South Fraser Perimeter Road.

 

It also poses serious concerns for other non-farm properties. When Highway 99 was built, it altered the flow of ground water in Richmond (these issues persist throughout our valley flood plain). The Farmland Defence League has been extremely concerned that the SFPR will cause flooding. Not flooding on the farms, which is great, but how are homes and businesses adjacent to the road to be protected – or are they?  There is no talk of money to protect those investments.

 

No Consideration of Changing Global Food Security Situation

It is regrettable that the ALC continues to rely on its own historic decisions, and does not appear to have given farmland preservation elevated priority given the seemingly daily diminishing global food security situation.

 

Pollution

In response to questions about how the ALC intends to mitigate against agricultural losses from elevated pollution levels, they said they didn’t look at that issue, but relied on the Environmental Assessment Certificate. Those of us who went through that process know it isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

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1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Now, of course, the government of BC is happily bulldozing all the fertile farmland soils and meadowlands along Highway 99, north and south, between the Deas Island Tunnel and the Mathews Exchange. These meadows and fields were once the hunting grounds of our Red-Tailed Hawks, Great-blue Herons, and other field birds, even pheasants and White-tailed deer. Now it has become ugly glass-row houses, mile after mile, sand dunes of mud, and only God knows how much more destruction will be ignored and allowed by unfeeling, uncaring, greedy developers. Such a shame, too, as these areas were once some of the finest, fertile agricultural lands in the country. They looked pretty too and had a soothing effect on the weary worker travelling home from a day’s work in the city. Too bad greed and the dollar are so
    important that the green spaces, birds, and animals we once shared this earth with are of so little importance to those with lots of cash. Tsk Tsk


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