“Fate of the Hudson’s Bay Company Farm”

Note: At the end of this post, there’s an August 31 update about the ALC meeting with public in Langley.

This blog has been monitoring the Agricultural Land Commission lately, mainly to observe the effect of  new chair Richard Bullock. Here goes again.

We notice that the South Coast Panel has announced a public information meeting about a Langley ALR-exclusion application. That’s a good sign, even though the application was long ago approved in principle after a meeting that involved only the applicants and the South Coast Panel, along with commission staff. The decision came out in November 2008, and the commission didn’t get around to consulting even the farmers whose land was affected until last month, July 2010.

Defenders of the ALR and particular ALR land would prefer a different sequence, with earlier opportunities for community input. However, there’s a glimmer of hope when the commission is being more open and consultative and showing increased respect for farmers and the public, whom the ALR ultimately exists for.

The Langley application is related to a proposed new overpass over a railway, and it involves the commission because the project will consume some farmland (perhaps something like 25 acres) and affect a lot more farmland. It’s within the 2,000 acres that James Yale of the Hudson’s Bay Company set aside as a farm in the 1830s, so some of the application opponents see the issue as determining “the fate of the Hudson’s Bay Company Farm,” which catches the imagination better than “the route of the 64th Avenue/Mufford Crescent Rail Overpass.”

An odd part of the commission’s sometimes impressive action on the issue is that the documents accompanying the meeting announcement give the impression that alternative routes may not have been adequately investigated even though the importance of that step is recognized.

ALC panels rely heavily on staff reports. For the South Coast Panel that considered the Langley application in November 2008, the Nov. 8, 2008, staff report indicates how the staff’s advice to the applicants about alternative routes had seemingly been ignored:

On 29 January 2008, Commission staff met with [a representative of the applicants] and advised that . . . it would be essential to conduct a comprehensive analysis of agricultural impacts and possible benefits not only of the proposed route but of all other routes that had been put forward seriously by any party. To date, the current application contains no such analysis. (page 3)

The panel’s decision describes the panel’s Nov. 18, 2008, discussion with the applicants about many aspects, “including alternative alignments” (page 3), but there is no documentation of comprehensive analysis of all other routes, and I don’t see it anywhere in the later staff reports either. A summary of the discussion says that “alternative proposals would have a similar or greater overall impact on other agricultural land” (page 3), but that just seems to be the applicants’ contention (and what else would an applicant say?). The view would be a lot more reliable if it had been analyzed by (a) the farmers whose land is affected, (b) the people who live in the area, and (c) the commission staff.

In its approval-in-principle decision, the panel admirably set out many criteria for giving final approval, and essentially the same criteria should apply regardless of whether the route changes. However, the documents (available at the bottom of the meeting announcement) give the impression that the most basic decision, the choice of the best route, still needs further thought. That impression is supported by a Langley Times article that includes a route proposal from one of the affected farmers. I’m not able to judge the farmer’s proposal, but it seemed to make sense to the reporter.

I hope that there will be sufficient time for the public to provide useful insights at the upcoming public information meeting. I also hope that the citizen speakers will respectfully and persuasively focus on aspects that the panel might be willing to change for the better. Despite the hard-to-believe assertion that the federal government contribution is contingent on the present route, it should be possible for the speakers to persuade the panel to re-open the question of optimal route. That might lead to the choice of the farmer’s route, which apparently minimizes the loss of farmland, or perhaps an even better option.

In any case, I especially hope people attending the commission’s meeting will show their credibility and their appreciation for the opportunity by conducting themselves in an exemplary way, much as Richmond citizens did when attending the commission’s meeting about the Garden City Lands on August 14, 2008. Disorderly conduct will inevitably make the commission less willing to extend the courtesy of public information meetings in future. On the other hand, professional conduct, including to-the-point helpful input, will keep the positive momentum going.

The Agricultural Land Commission’s public information meeting about the Langley overpass will take place from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m. at the Langley Events Centre, 7888  200 Street, Langley, on Monday, August 30, 2010.

Update, August 31: Judging from the report in the Langley Advance, “Overpass opponents plea with ALC,” the meeting went well. It states:

  • There was not one speaker in favour of the Mufford-Glover overpass during the meeting. About 40 people spoke.
  • The ALC will accept written submissions by mail until Sept. 10. After that, it will go through all the material and will be in a position to make a final decision.

The Langley Times has reported on the meeting in more detail in “No support for ‘overpass to nowhere.‘”  It includes a telling quote from new ALC chair Richard Bulluck: “We can’t make wise decisions without hearing all points of view, and we feel now we have heard them all.”

In addition, Langley Times editor Frank Buckholz has examined the broader ramifications in “Mufford overpass a potent political issue.”

(Note: I was unable to attend the meeting myself because of a previous commitment.)

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