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Protesters take plight to Premier Christy Clark's office

Ray Galawan leads a small convoy of tractors toward Richmond City Hall in January. - Matthew Hoekstra photo
Ray Galawan leads a small convoy of tractors toward Richmond City Hall in January.
— image credit: Matthew Hoekstra photo

Richmond farmers Ray Galawan and Bob Featherstone drove their tractors to Premier Christy Clark’s constituency office Wednesday to demand action from the province.

“We’re very very disappointed in the Agricultural Land Commission,” said Galawan, 70. “They’re doing nothing to stop the dumping of demolition waste on farmland.”

The tractor convoy motored down Dunbar Street in the morning, reaching Clark’s Vancouver office at 3615 West 4th Ave. by noon. Clark wasn’t at her office, but a member of her staff met with protesters.

Galawan has been leading a protest outside a 13.5-hectare (33.4-acre) farm on Finn Road since Jan. 16 over a farm road being built with demolition waste. The heavy-duty road, according to the land’s leaseholders, is needed for a planned tree nursery.

A two tractor convoy to Richmond City Hall last month, led by Galawan, got the attention of Richmond council, which has asked the province to allow a bylaw change that would require a permit for all soil removal and fill projects on Agricultural Land Reserve property in Richmond.

“Our city has done as much as they can, so we decided we needed to go to (the premier),” he said.

Mayor Malcolm Brodie said yesterday he’s yet to hear a response from the province on the city’s bylaw proposal.

The protest outside 9360 Finn Rd. is now in its sixth week, and neither Galawan nor Featherstone has been deterred by lawsuits launched by leaseholder Bill Jones of Bill Jones Horticulture Inc. for defamation and economic losses from an eight-day blockade last month.

Galawan said he didn’t plan on protesting this long, but said until he gets answers from farmland regulators, he’ll stay. He insists Agricultural Land Commission orders for the fill project don’t match with what’s taking place.

The Finn Road farm has grown fruits and vegetables for a century, including 50 years under the watch of Featherstone’s father, said Galawan. He also noted another nearby farm was once used for a nursery operation, but its roads were constructed of material that was able to be worked back into the soil, once the operation ceased.

“This farm can never be farmed again with this material on there. Who’s going to take it out of there? Even if it is taken out, it’s destroyed because of the leaching that’s taking place, through the steel, through the mesh, through the concrete. It’s destroyed.”

Forty years after it was introduced, the Agricultural Commission Act now needs “fine tuning,” he said, to prevent fill projects from multiplying on fertile land.

This week the B.C. Liberal government pledged $4 million over three years for the Agricultural Land Commission to provide “increased oversight” to the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Richmond East MLA Linda Reid said the money will fund more staff. That coupled with municipalities taking on a greater regulatory role—Reid has “every confidence” Richmond’s request to do so will be granted—will improve monitoring of farmland activities.

Reid said she is committed to preserving farmland, but said what’s taking place on Finn Road is a permitted use.

“Some of the feedback that I’m getting is there’s lots of folks who don’t believe that growing trees is a legitimate agricultural use. The reality is, it is,” she said. “We’ve never taken issue with what people plant on their agricultural land.”

Reid said most of her riding is cranberry fields—all with access roads to move equipment. At Finn Road, she believes leaseholders are complying with all rules in building a farm road there.

“The product today is appropriate, all that’s under debate is the size of the pieces. And it’s frankly the access road that you will find in probably just about every farm that we have in Richmond.”

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