You can bet Delta’s prime agricultural land would under threat if the proposed container port expansion went ahead.
That’s what Mayor George Harvie warned this week during council’s debate on a staff recommendation to formally oppose the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s Terminal 2 project and send a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as federal environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson, asking them to not approve the application.
The recommendation is based on a federal review panels report on the project.
“Make no mistake, if this project goes ahead, the only lands that are available are agricultural lands. As chair of the Metro Vancouver Industrial Strategy Committee, we know that. During the panel presentation that I made I asked them to identify which lands they, the port, are going to be looking at. We never got a result,” said Harvie.
“They’re not going to answer because we know what the answer is, it’s the existing agricultural lands that are going to be targeted by the port. And remember, the port being federal has the authority to buy those lands and change the zoning any way they want, regardless whether it’s in the Agricultural Land Reserve or not,” he added.
The Delta report outlined a long list of issues regarding the T2 project and its implications, including the review panel recommending the implementation of an agricultural management plan to prevent, monitor and compensate for the loss of farmland.
The panel, however, does not address Delta's broader concerns that agricultural land is under pressure from port-related development, nor does it address VFPA's statement that the construction of T2 will require 2,500 acres of well-located, developable industrial land, and that it would consider using agricultural lands as a “last resort” to accommodate this, the Delta report states.
The city is concerned the port could convert farmland into industrial uses while not having to go through ALC approval processes
In a report last year on Delta’s submission to the federal review panel, the city noted that there’s already been an incremental loss of almost 1,000 acres (400 hectares) of agricultural land over the last decade.
“The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority has stated that construction of Terminal 2 will require 2,500 acres of well-located developable industrial land by 2035,” the city states, noting this is problematic given the industrial land inventory of Metro Vancouver is expected to be exhausted in a few years.
“Delta estimates that as much as 1,500 acres (600 hectares) of prime agricultural land in Delta is under pressure from port-related development, including 200 hectares of ALR that has been optioned by real estate speculators,” that report notes.
“VFPA acknowledges that, although it is a ‘last resort’ option, it will look at options for industrial uses of agricultural lands to accommodate the land demand from RBT2, if necessary.”
According to the port authority at the time, “Protecting agricultural land is important, and the Agricultural Land Commission has done an exceptional job of just that. Unfortunately, we don’t have the same protection for trade-enabling industrial land, which means the port authority and other goods movement businesses may have no choice but to consider agricultural land for expansion.”
The port also notes, “Our intent is to work with all potentially affected stakeholders, including the Agricultural Land Commission, to ensure we appropriately mitigate for any agricultural lands we convert to transportation and trade use.
“We could look at land swaps, development of new agricultural land elsewhere or outside the Lower Mainland, and better use of existing agricultural land, among other ideas. We are open to input from stakeholders including the Agricultural Land Commission for the mutual benefit of the region and the country.”
The city earlier this year conveyed concerns when looking at Metro Vancouver’s draft regional industrial lands strategy and the proposal for the regional district to create a new industrial land reserve for strategically located trade-enabling industrial lands in the Lower Mainland.
“A substantial portion of Delta is located within the Agricultural Land Reserve that is under provincial regulation, and Delta contains a large port facility and associated lands that are under federal regulation. Delta has a large agricultural and industrial land base, and is committed to the protection of both types of lands. Staff are aware of the inherent pressures and challenges facing both types of land uses but feel that an Industrial Land Reserve would create another level of regulation that would hamper local government planning efforts,” a report this spring notes.
Eight years ago, former Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington raised alarm bells when revealing plans to industrialize some prime ALR land with warehouse logistics to support the Deltaport container terminal.
Huntington at the time found that a warehouse developer signed $98 million in options to buy 11 farm parcels near Deltaport Way.
She said she was concerned that if the consortium partnered with Port Metro Vancouver, there may be no need to go through the Agricultural Land Commission to exclude the acreage because the port falls within federal jurisdiction.