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Richmond moves to curb dumping on farmland

Ray Galawan addresses council at Richmond City Hall Monday. - Matthew Hoekstra photo
Ray Galawan addresses council at Richmond City Hall Monday.
— image credit: Matthew Hoekstra photo

A standing-room only crowd spilled out of a boardroom at Richmond City Hall Monday as residents looked to their city council for help in their fight against dumping on farmland.

“We have enough places that are covered in fill, covered in concrete slabs with greenhouses on them or some kind of structure on it,” resident Kimi Hendess told council. “This is a field to grow food.”

Trucks began dumping demolition fill on a former Finn Road pumpkin farm late last month to form a base for a new farm road. Neighbours watched helplessly before retired farmer Ray Galawan last week organized a blockade, and later a tractor convoy to city hall, in a bid to halt the project.

Despite its limited powers in regulating agriculture, Mayor Malcolm Brodie’s council did what it could Monday to toughen rules around dumping “improper materials” on farmland.

“One of the highest values that we have as a city is preservation and enhancement of our agricultural land. If we don’t properly preserve our agricultural land it will come to the point where it simply isn’t viable, and very significant changes will take place,” said Brodie.

Under a plan presented Monday, farm owners would have to seek approval from the city before depositing fill on their land—even if the project is a designated farm use. Farmers would also have to seek a permit from the city, at a potential cost of $600. The city’s requirements would be in addition to those of the Agricultural Land Commission—the Crown agency that regulates farmland in B.C.

But council doesn’t have authority to make the change without approval from the province. Richmond’s mayor is nonetheless optimistic.

“I think the bylaw makes sense and I’m hopeful the Agricultural Land Commission would work with us on it. We are after all trying to strengthen the process. We are all motivated to get to the same result, which is to be very careful about the fill being put on farmland.”

Even if the province allows the city greater control in regulating farmland fill, the Agricultural Land Commission would still have ultimate authority.

“They will always hold the trump card, but I believe the (commission) wants to work with Richmond,” said Brodie. “The (commission) has chronic funding issues, they really are not properly resourced, so this is a way that we can add to the effectiveness of what they are trying to do.”

Also on Monday council endorsed a Soil Watch program, in which signs will be posted in farm neighbourhoods to highlight soil removal and fill activities and offer a phone number to report concerns.

At the city’s request, the commission ordered a temporary stop to the Finn Road fill project last week. But officials have said provincial law doesn’t prohibit the use of recycled concrete or asphalt for farm road construction.

In the meantime, Ray Galawan—a fourth generation Richmond resident—plans to continue blocking access to the property until he sees an effort to remove dumped materials such as asphalt.

“There’s many of our grandpas and dads turning over in their graves knowing what’s going on there…” he told council. “We want the dumping stopped and all the toxic material removed.”

A bylaw amendment is expected to be in front of city council next week. With council’s vote, the legislation would then be forwarded to the province for approval.

Coun. Harold Steves also believes there’s a good chance the province will allow it, noting 10 years ago municipalities had the right to regulate farm fill.

“We had the responsibility, it was taken away from us, and then we were given the right to apply to do it,” said Steves.

Vague laws and a short-staffed commission struggling to keep up has made it lucrative for farms to become dump sites—converting the best farming soil into soil with severe limitations.

“When we had the original soil conservation bylaw entirely in the hands of the city 10 years ago, we just didn’t allow this stuff,” said Steves. “It’s really got out of hand, to the point you can dump anything on farmland, cover it over and say you’ve got a farm.”

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