War has been declared on Delta's prime farmland.
That's the assessment of Vicki Huntington and others following the Delta South MLA uncovering the private sector's plans to purchase hundreds of acres close to the B.C. Rail line for industrial development.
Huntington fears the land will be taken out of the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Much of the land had originally been expropriated in the 1960s by the government of the day for industrial development that never ended up taking place. After much lobbying by farmers and their supporters, the land was sold back in the late 1990s for an average of $10,000 per acre. Now they're being offered an average of $185,000 per acre, Huntington noted.
According to the independent MLA, the longtime local farm family that stands to benefit most is the Guichons, whose roughly 241 acres (97 hectares) optioned would net around $45 million, should the sale proceed.
Huntington said it would likely be the developer that would apply to remove the land from the ALR.
In an interview with the Vancouver Sun this week, Ron Emerson, president of the group that specializes in confidential industrial land acquisitions, confirmed he signed the option-to-purchase agreements with five large-scale farmers that are currently growing blueberries and root vegetables.
He noted the deal comes after years of discussions with port and rail officials, and the land is earmarked for a logistics park and intermodal yard for B.C.'s Gateway Project.
"There is a shortage of land for Gateway; that was what sparked our interest," Emerson said, adding the development would limit the number of trucks on the road. "It should help traffic around the Lower Mainland. We understand what Gateway needs and we understand this makes a lot of sense."
Angered at what's been quietly happening behind the scenes, Richmond Coun. Harold Steves, one of the original architects of the ALR, told the Optimist he commends Huntington for bringing the information to light.
Steves said what's essentially happening is war is being declared on Delta's farmland.
"I was involved years ago in a campaign to get the land (expropriated backup lands) sold back to the farmers. This would be a real blow if this goes ahead," Steves said.
"When I said the Vancouver Port Authority has decaled war on agricultural land, this is the proof right here. This is exactly what I was afraid of when I said (port authority CEO) Robin Silvester had declared war on the ALR," he said.
Delta Farmers' Institute president John Savage, noting he had already heard what had been happening, said he's also opposed to the loss of any more prime farmland in the region.
"I've met with the proponent and I've made it very clear to him that the land should remain farming and not be developed in any way. It should stay in agriculture because you just can't keep taking the farmland base away," said Savage.
The former provincial agriculture minister added, "You keep taking land capable of producing food away, you're going to have companies like processors moving away and saying the hell with B.C. We have to have all the farm businesses and attached different processors remain here, but we can't do that if we keep taking away farmland."
Savage said likely nothing could have stopped the loss of hundreds of acres to the Tsawwassen First Nation's treaty and subsequent industrialization and shopping centre plans, but this attempt to remove land from the ALR should be blocked.
Delta Coun. Sylvia Bishop agreed, saying farmland should remain for farming, not for warehousing and railcars.
"It's time that all our elected government officials realize that the integrity of our farmland is vital to food security," she said.
"There's nothing illegal about what's being done by securing options, but there is a moral and ethical dilemma: food security versus industrialization. I'm calling upon the Agricultural Land Commission to preserve the integrity of our farmland and I'm talking to all speculators, telling them, 'Hands off our farmland,'" she added.
The provincial New Democrats said the Liberal government has allowed the ALR to erode over the past decade, but it's time to take a stand against the latest plan to industrialize South Delta farms.
Delta North MLA Guy Gentner said if the optioned lands are removed from the ALR, it would it "strike a concrete arrow into the heart of Delta."
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