Almost 200 rain soaked people converged in Ladner on Saturday to protest the industrialization of Delta's prime agricultural lands.
Organized by the local chapter of the Council of Canadians, the event at Magee Park saw concerned citizens and members from various groups speak out against what they describe as behind the scenes efforts to convert large tracts of farmland in the Agricultural Land Reserve for port-related expansion.
" So what's the best use of these rich soils of Delta - agriculture, not ports," said the Boundary Bay Conservation Committee's Mary Taitt.
"Let's celebrate the green heart of the Lower Mainland, this great river, vital estuary, rich farmland and this warm community of people who care for this bountiful, priceless corner of the blue planet," she said.
Taitt one of several speakers to admonish the impacts to wildlife, a corporate takeover of Delta's farmlands and free trade zones.
The rally, which included an appearance by a large vinyl salmon, also saw participants march through Ladner, tying up a lane of traffic without police on hand.
Delta South independent MLA Vicki Huntington, who attended the rally, this year revealed efforts to industrialize hundreds of hectares of ALR lands with warehouse logistics to support Deltaport growth. She said a warehouse developer signed $98 million in options to buy 11 farm parcels near Highway 17 and Deltaport Way.
It's the latest in a series of controversies when it comes to the future of Delta's farmlands. Those hot button issues include plans to open a new three-berth container terminal at Roberts Bank, South Delta being eyed as a foreign trade zone, the loss of land to various projects including the South Fraser Perimeter Road, and farmland being purchased for BC Rail.
The Council of Canadians says Delta is the "eye of the hurricane" when it comes to industrialization of farmland, port expansion, loss of migrant worker rights, pollution and destruction of critical habitat.
Adding fuel to the fire was Port Metro Vancouver CEO Robin Silvester this year telling the Metro Vancouver board that the ALR is emotionally but not economically important to the region.
Agriculture Don McRae recently wrote to Mayor Lois Jackson and council, responding to Delta seeking assurances the optioning deals would not result in the Agricultural Land Commission losing control if those purchases fell under federal jurisdiction. McRae said he's on the record as stating that should an application be submitted to the ALC, he would expect it to be subject to the process outlined in the Agricultural Land Commission Act. The minister noted the ALC is an independent administrative tribunal and as such it would inappropriate for him to interfere in their decision-making process.
Meantime, Delta council also recently reviewed a Canadian Environmental Assessment Act screening report for Port Metro Vancouver. It's a 400-plus page environmental assessment on the Deltaport Terminal, Road and Rail Improvement Program. The series of planned road and rail enhancements, which will result in the loss of some cultivated land, are to help the existing container port increase capacity.
According to a Delta staff analysis, "The report does not address possible secondary effects of increased activity on remainder lands near the expanded port, road and rail facilities. These might include the impact of increased carbon emissions on crops, higher risks to farm land from hazardous spills, or speculative pressure on nearby agricultural land."
Delta is asking the port authority to help provide a new irrigation system to Westham Island farmers as part of the compensation. CAO George Harvie told council that such a project would bring real, tangible benefits to local agriculture and benefit future generations.