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Industrial plans for farmland

Huntington uncovers options on more than 500 acres as developers look for property to support port activities

Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington revealed this week that an industrial consortium is behind the optioning of 558 acres (226 hectares) of South Delta farmland for port-related use.

Huntington's office has uncovered $98 million in options on prime ALR farmland located in the area around Highway 17 and Deltaport Way.

"Port-related corporations like CN Rail, CP Rail and Western Stevedoring are working with developers who are actively seeking prime land in the Agricultural Land Reserve," said Huntington.

"The potential loss is even greater than the 512 acres (207 hectares) of ALR lost to the Tsawwassen treaty. The combined loss could reach over 1,000 acres. The targeted land is some of the best agricultural soil in Canada and represents a critically productive mass in Delta."

Huntington said the options favour Lamington Heights Investments. The firm is closely connected to the Emerson Real Estate Group, which specializes in confidential industrial land acquisition.

She said documents show that option-to-purchase agreements have been signed on 11 productive farm parcels. The parcels are adjacent to lands previously purchased in 2009 by B.C. Rail under its mandate to acquire port-related lands.

Huntington said it appears the developers eventually hope to acquire all Delta lands in the agricultural triangle between Highway 17 and Deltaport Way. The land abuts the Tsawwassen First Nation property that is now slated for industrial and commercial development.

She said according to sources, initial plans already exist for an intermodal yard and logistics park.

"The province is completely complicit in this effort to industrialize the ALR," said the first-term independent MLA.

"The proposed Gulf Rail Yard has morphed into a full scale intermodal and logistics centre, complete with rubber-tired gantry cranes moving containers from road to rail and vice versa; state of the art distribution warehouses; container storage operations; and a probable free trade zone that a port operator is presently pursuing with the federal government," she says.

"This is the industrialization of agriculture on a grand scale," said Huntington.

"This is big money, big business and big government. There is no doubt these plans would greatly increase port capacity and efficiency. And in other circumstances the development would be extremely exciting. But this is the wrong place and the wrong land."

Ironically, the optioned properties were part of the Roberts Bank back-up lands, farmland that was expropriated in 1968 for port development. In the late 1990s/early 2000s, the province sold the land back to farmers for an average of $10,000 per acre. A decade later, the land is being optioned at an average of $185,000 per acre. One family alone has accepted options totaling more than $44 million.

"Few people would turn down this kind of money, especially when it's clear the ALR means so little to our government," said Huntington. "It's disappointing, though, when even our pioneer farming families don't fight this destruction of farmland.

"This is governmentsupported land speculation that is destabilizing the farming industry in Delta. And it couldn't happen if our provincial government had the moral courage to declare the ALR off-limits. The ALR is not a strategic land bank for Port Metro Vancouver."

Just as worrisome, said Huntington, is the destabilizing impact on both the environment and food security.

"Without the upland forage that agricultural land provides, the ecosystem supporting the Pacific Migratory bird flyway will collapse," she said.

"Not to mention the fact that B.C. already imports more than half the food consumed in this province.

"This government is sacrificing Delta - and our agricultural heritage - to oblige Gateway."