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New farm operators seeking to ‘improve the land’
Protesters ceased their blockade of a Finn Road farm Thursday morning after Richmond RCMP told them to clear out but still continued their demonstration nearby.
The farm, at 9360 Finn Rd., has been subject of controversy since trucks began depositing recycled concrete and asphalt on the land. The material—which prompted the protest—is being used to build a farm road to serve a future tree nursery.
Leaseholder Bill Jones of Bill Jones Horticulture Inc. said he sought a court injunction Wednesday to remove the protesters from his farm’s driveway, but a judge indicated police should act first. Richmond RCMP did Thursday morning, and a handful of protesters removed their blockade but nonetheless continued their roadside presence.
Jones, a member of city council’s agricultural advisory committee and the previous longtime operator of a nursery on Westminster Highway, said people have a right to express their opinion, but the protest has gone on long enough.
“My position is if it’s arable farmland dammit, let’s put it to some good use,” he said. “We simply want to go in and improve the land so it’s profitable. We have a longterm lease on it, but we’re being held up.”
Farmers Ray Galawan and Bob Featherstone helped organize the blockade, resulting in the Agricultural Land Commission ordering a temporary stop to the road project, at the request of the city. The commission requested a number of conditions be met before work continues. Heavy machinery was completing that work yesterday, sorting broken piles of concrete—most pieces no larger than softballs.
Dave Sandhu, a Richmond farmer assisting Jones in the nursery venture, said some protesters’ assertions of hulking concrete and rebar being dumped on the site are “ridiculous.”
“We don’t have Flintstone vehicles. They’re about the only thing that would drive over rebar and concrete the size of bathtubs,” he said. “We’re building a road for vehicles to drive on.”
Jones said he needs an all-weather road on the 13.5-hectare (33.4-acre) property to accommodate heavy vehicles on land he said is “essentially a swamp.” The road, he said, will occupy just three per cent of the total area and serve a nursery capable of meeting needs of future developments in Richmond.
Jones also said any materials discovered that don’t belong on the site—such as rebar—are being removed, but noted recycled concrete and asphalt are allowed.
“We have done nothing wrong. We are operating in accordance to the wishes and direction of the Agricultural Land Commission. We have been prohibited because certain other parties decided that they didn’t like what we’re doing here. Even though what we’re doing is perfectly legal.”
Protesters have also decried the loss of a farm that previously grew food. But Jones said a pumpkin-growing operation occupied just a small portion of the site.
“It’s about 35 acres and there was one corner, maybe one or two acres, that was in fact grown for pumpkins. The rest of the land grows weed and grass,” he said. “Our intent is to turn the whole arable portion of the land into profitable production and permitted agricultural products.”
The protest prompted city council to act this week. Under a plan set for preliminary approval this week, 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. The city’s requirements would be in addition to those of the Agricultural Land Commission—the Crown agency that regulates farmland in B.C. Council does, however, require approval from the province before it can make the change.
Jones said more regulation isn’t necessary.
“The Agricultural Land Commission, the ALC, is there for that purpose. They’ve got their own guidelines for how this should be done. All it would be doing is muddying the waters on who’s in charge of what, and the net result would be more red tape and more fees and delays.”