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Port Metro Vancouver can expect legal fight, Richmond councillor says

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An 81-hectare farm in East Richmond could be among the first battlegrounds in determining the power of Port Metro Vancouver, a Richmond councillor says.

The port owns the 200-acre property known as the Gilmore farm, and Coun. Harold Steves expects a fight if the port moves to expand its industrial operations there.

"We're not entirely convinced that the port is exempt (from the Agricultural Land Reserve.) It's an arms-length Crown corporation," he said.

Steves and port CEO Robin Silvester faced off on CBC Radio Thursday morning over industrialization of farmland—one week after a heated discussion on the same topic.

On Jan. 26, Silvester told politicians at a Metro Vancouver board meeting in Chilliwack that more ALR land should be sacrificed to make way for port expansion.

The meeting was the first time politicians had a chance to quiz Silvester directly since the port unveiled its long-range vision.

Steves characterized Silvester's comments as a "declaration of war on farmland," and said Thursday if the port moves to develop the Gilmore farm, it can expect a legal challenge.

The intent of the 40-year-old ALR was to stop port expansion on farmland, he said.

"That should have sent a message to the port that they should stay in Vancouver," said Steves, one of the ALR's founders. "They've just ignored the Agricultural Land Reserve and took the opportunity of using Indian land claims as a way to get a foothold onto the Tsawwassen mainland, and they just haven't stopped."

Silvester said Thursday overruling the ALR would be the port's "last resort, not our first preference."

"I can't see that we'd do that unilaterally. We have no plan at the moment to convert the farmland in Richmond to industrial use. If we were to, we would need to (have) a conversation about how we create alternative agricultural capacity."

Silvester said his first priority "is to get the most out of the facilities that we have without requiring any more land." He said the port is considering many expansion options, and cited its conversion of a former garbage dump near the Gilmore farm as an example of past success.

"The port has successfully developed that now into productive industrial land. So where there are opportunities to bring land into industrial use and raise the density of industrial use, that's the way of finding the best outcomes," said Silvester.

Meanwhile, city council has yet to meet with port officials on another sore spot—oil tankers offloading jet fuel in the South Arm of the Fraser River.

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