Port's hunger for farmland a 'declaration of war'
Metro Vancouver politicians are up in arms after Port Metro Vancouver CEO Robin Silvester told them more Agricultural Land Reserve farmland should be sacrificed to make way for more port expansion and the jobs that will bring.
Silvester made the presentation Thursday at a special strategy session of the Metro board in Chilliwack, where he described the ALR as emotionally but not economically important to the region and said more must be done to ensure land is available for industry.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said it's clear Port Metro Vancouver wants to rework the ALR and press ahead with further industrialization of farmland.
"It puts us on a collision course," Brodie said, noting his city is committed to preserving agricultural land. "We see things very much differently."
The port already angered Metro leaders in 2009 when it quietly bought 80 hectares (200 acres) of Richmond ALR farmland near the Fraser River next to an existing port terminal that handles automobiles and containers.
Port Metro Vancouver has promised the Gilmore Farm property will continue to be farmed but Brodie said it's clear the plan is to eventually convert it for port facilities.
"If they're successful that could compromise all the farmland in east Richmond," he said. "It absolutely has to be stopped."
The session was the first time Metro leaders had a chance to quiz Silvester directly since Port Metro Vancouver unveiled its Port 2050 long-range vision late last year.
The document warns local residents' desire to be a "lifestyle region" may throttle the port's potential.
Regional district directors also pressed Silvester about recent statements he made suggesting the ALR is "irrelevant" in ensuring food security for the region.
"What he was presenting is not an open avenue for reasoned discussion but a declaration of war on farmland," said Richmond Coun. Harold Steves, one of the founders of the ALR, who characterized Silvester's comments as a "very forceful" attack on the land reserve.
Steves said he very concerned more farmland is being snapped up for possible port use.
He said farmers in Delta have told him BC Rail is buying land far from the railway or any of its assets.
"I assume they're buying land for port expansion," Steves said.
He noted BC Rail, as a Crown corporation, has the ability to expropriate land it wants.
And he said the port authority also asserts a right to overrule municipal zoning, the Regional Growth Strategy and the ALR.
"We will live to debate that," he added.
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts also questioned where trucks will be parked if trade through the port intensifies further.
Silvester, reached for comment after the session, called it a good opportunity for dialogue and collaboration.
"We all recognize there are some complex issues to work through to deliver the best future for the Lower Mainland," he said. "There are land pressures."
Silvester said Port Metro Vancouver has a "very clear focus" in making sure the 80,000 port-related jobs in the Lower Mainland continue and the Pacific Gateway serves the needs of Canada.
"If we all work together there is a win-win outcome – more trade, more jobs and more revenue for municipalities, the province and the federal government to provide all the things we need," he said.
Asked whether Port Metro Vancouver will rule out further attempts to remove land from the ALR for port use, Silvester said there are many areas of low-productivity farmland in the region.
He suggested "win-win" scenarios may be possible where such low-grade ALR land is industrialized and some of the profits are used to improve the productivity of other farmland.
"We need to be thinking more than just about the ALR but in addition maybe a job-creation land reserve," Silvester said. "Something built into the planning process that makes sure we will always have land for the economy to grow in the future.
"In the long-term, we can see a challenge that just protecting one type of land isn't going to resolve."
Photo above: Container ship loads at Deltaport.