Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

A Bit of History of the ALC Approval of the SFPR

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The following is being circulated by email by Donna Passmore. Since I have been commenting on this decision here and many of you are not on her email list, I am copying the whole thing here as there is nowhere esle on the web where you can find this at present

In the days of Social Credit we actually had Socred appointed Agricultural and Commissions that stood up for the ALR and opposed government plans to allow farmland to be developed. Ian Payton refused to remove Terra Nova from the ALR and the Commission was overruled by the government but the integrity of the Commission was unquestioned.

The most alarming aspect of this approval is the Land Commission’s reasoning for doing so.

First, allowing the use of agricultural lands “in deference to the provincial benefits of improved transportation” is not the role of the Land Commission. The role of the ALC is to preserve farmland.

Second, their statements justifying the decision are unbelievably Orwellian. There can never be “substantial enhancements to agriculture” when substantial amounts of farmland are lost. It is true there were “45 years of planning and decision making by national, provincial, regional, and local levels of government.” The reason it took 45 years is because most of those levels of government were opposed to the project and prevented it from happening.

WAC Bennett initiated the Roberts Bank Superport proposal in the 1960’s. The regional government, the Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board (now Metro Vancouver), refused to allow the development onto farmland.  Bennett disbanded the board and took away their zoning powers. The top scientists for the BC Fish and Wildlife Branch and Environment Canada published a booklet on why the Delta farmlands should never be developed and should be preserved for the Pacific Flyway. At the same time an international development company, Western Realty, was attempting to buy up as much land in Richmondand Delta as possible to cash in on the expected bonanza. Along with Richmond Council’s rezoning of 12,000 acres of farmland in the 1960’s these were the main reasons the Agricultural Land Reserve was established in 1973.

The Commission states that “the need for the SFPR can be traced back to decisions in the 1960’s to build a port at Robert’s Bank” but ignores the fact that the commission itself was established in 1973 to stop the expansion of the port onto farmland at Robert’s Bank.

Metro Vancouver and subsequent local councils in Delta have consistently opposed development of farmland in Delta ever since.  During that entire time local and regional government, and until recently the provincial government, were opposed to expanding the Robert’s Bank port onto farmland.

Nowhere in the commission’s judgement have they discussed the effect of the compounded collective loss of about 1,000 acres of farmland due to the SFPR, TFN development, railyard development and Delta Port expansion onto farmland for container storage. Loss of critical mass speeds up urban sprawl. It accelerates crop loss by concentrating the migratory waterfowl onto the smaller area that remains, and fewer farms means that farm services move further afield. That affects the survival of all of the farms that are left.

The BC Ministry of Agriculture states that we need to find an additional 200,000 acres (90,000 ha) of irrigated farmland in this region by 2025. Irrigation and drainage will be ssential but destroying farmland to get it cannot be justified. If we are to have food security and agricultural sustainability we should be adding land to our farmland inventory in the region not losing it. There are properties in Delta that could be acquired and rehabilitated for agriculture. The Land Commission should be demanding the addition of land to the ALR acre for acre to make up for the loss of 1,000 acres. The more land we retain the more land we can irrigate in the future.

Conditional approval of the highway by the Land Commission does not guarantee the money will be spent to make the improvements or that it will work. In Richmond, Highway 91 cuts a large swath through farmland in east Richmond and is the main reason $10 million worth of drainage and irrigation improvements are needed. The federal governments answer (under the Liberals) was to provide the funds for agriculture by taking 136 acres of the Garden City Lands bog out of the AlR for residential development. Trees in another 300 acres of the Garden City Lands bog are dying because Highway 91 and other roads around the perimeter of the bog have affected the hydrology and the normal rise and fall of the water table.

There are alternatives to the SFPR. Highway 10 has recently been widened, which should meet our immediate needs. Some container transport can be accomodated by container ferries to Richmond and Surrey. If an inland port were established at Ashcroft where the two national railroads meet, the SFPR and Delta Port expansion would not be necessary. Rail is also one of the answers to curbing global warming caused by trucks and to rising fuel costs as oil reserves decline.

Once development of an area begins it is difficult to stop. By giving conditional approval to the SFPR land speculators will be encouraged that their time will come. The Land Commission has inadvertently guaranteed that there will be increased pressures on Delta farmland and further attempts to make incursions into the ALR in Delta in the future.

Harold Steves
Founding Director
Farmland Defence League of BC

Written by Stephen Rees

December 11, 2008 at 8:03 am

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