Opinion

COLUMN: Creative thinking in Chilliwack ALR exclusion application

The 2012 freshet flooded farmland at Carey Point even washing away portions of this blueberry field. To offset the removal of farmland of a Parr Road property in Chilliwack, an ALR removal application suggests the construction of a multi-million-dollar berm to protect Carey Point. - Paul J. Henderson
The 2012 freshet flooded farmland at Carey Point even washing away portions of this blueberry field. To offset the removal of farmland of a Parr Road property in Chilliwack, an ALR removal application suggests the construction of a multi-million-dollar berm to protect Carey Point.
— image credit: Paul J. Henderson

Creative thinking is the hallmark of the successful.

When it comes to getting farmland out of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), creativity has hit a peak with local developer Peter Kingma’s application for 17.6 hectares on Parr Road.

It helps that he’s got support at city hall because the thumb-shaped piece of prime farmland sticks out like, well, an unwanted thumb in between the urban containment corridor of the city and the newish development of Eagle Landing on the Squiala Indian Reserve.

The city has wanted this piece of land out of the ALR for more than a decade as part of its long-term plans, which include putting a road through to Eagle Landing.

Two years ago, Kingma put together a plan to remove the same piece of property from the ALR in exchange for the inclusion of some not-so-good farmland in Abbotsford and land in Prince George.

The Agricultural Land Commission gave him the thumbs down.

Nothing if not confident and creative, Kingma has now come up with a plan to pay upwards of $6 million to protect the 17 properties in the Carey Point area from the annual Fraser River freshet.

Two years ago I walked along the bank as chunks of soil holding up sprinklers on fence posts for a blueberry field were literally falling into the rushing waters.

So what does prime farmland 10 kilometres away from threatened farmland on the Fraser River have to do with one another? Nothing.

The proposal is to exclude land from the ALR for an industrial park in exchange for money to build a berm that no other level of government was willing to pay for to protect the 156 hectares of land at Carey Point. Of that land, 119 hectares is producing hay, blueberries and other crops. And while it is not as if the next freshet is going to wash the entire 156 hectares away, the threat is real. It is gradual, incremental but that farmland is disappearing.

The landowners at Carey Point have lobbied for protection for years. Others have quietly criticized those landowners for asking for protection when they all bought their land knowing it was outside the city’s dike system. Why should taxpayers foot the bill to protect land they got a good deal on?

But is there an argument to be made that if the land is suddenly so worth saving in a land swap for class 1 and 2 farmland, isn’t it worth saving on the face of it? Maybe the provincial government should work out how valuable this farmland is and pay to build the berm.

One of the criticisms of the ALR is that it is a blunt tool that protects land without taking into consideration individual circumstances. On the other hand, one of the criticisms of what has happened to the ALR is that tiny, piecemeal exclusions here and there erode the land bank and threaten the long-term sustainability of local food production.

If we were to step back and look purely at the big picture, maybe we should have our cake and eat it too? Maybe Carey Point is worth saving and Kingma’s Parr Road property should also stay in the ALR?

There is also something mercenary-like about this whole thing. As a community, a province we can’t afford to protect this farmland, which is apparently worth protecting. But this developer will do it . . . as long as we give him what he wants: an ALR exclusion.

Mr. Kingma is not spending $6 million out of the goodness of his heart. The rewards to be reaped from the industrial possibilities at the Parr Road property must be great. And in lean times, no government willing to shell out $6 million to protect property that was consciously left outside the city’s diking system when it was first constructed.

The ALC will have a very interesting decision to make with this very creative application.

And if they reject Mr. Kingma’s application for a third time, there will be much gnashing of teeth at his office, at city hall and on the farms of Carey Point.

Stay tuned.

 

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