Cities may take on farmland enforcement

ALC chair urges Metro Vancouver municipalities to fight illegal dumping, truck parking on ALR farmland

Richard Bullock is chair of the Agricultural Land Commission.

The Agricultural Land Commission may get help from Metro Vancouver cities to fight illegal dumping and truck parking that degrades the region’s farmland and blocks food production.

It’s not yet clear if municipal bylaw enforcement officers or even a Metro-funded team might take up some of the commission’s enforcement work on land in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

But Metro’s regional planning committee and the ALC agreed Friday to pursue a formal implementation plan to prosecute farmland violations and collaborate on other initiatives to improve farming.

“The ALR is here and here to stay,” ALC chair Richard Bullock told the rare joint meeting with Metro directors. “If we’re going to keep it active and productive, we’ve got to make sure agriculture is the first priority and agriculture is what happens on those lands, not other things like truck parking.”

Bullock sought to rally Metro directors to the ALR preservation cause and turn the page on the province’s controversial decision to divide the land reserve into two zones, with looser rules outside the Lower Mainland.

“We’re still standing folks, we need you to stand with us,” he said.

Roughly half of ALR land in Metro is farmed, another quarter isn’t farmed but could be, and the other quarter is tied up in other uses from parks and roads to industry and golf courses.

Farmland owners are paid handsomely to accept fill and much of the dumping is unapproved, but Bullock said the ALC alone has too few compliance and enforcement staff to to stop the rampant violations.

Port Coquitlam Coun. Darrell Penner said municipal bylaw staff are too busy to take on farmland.

“We have homeless people, we’ve got some pretty big issues that affect people directly,” he said, suggesting there instead be a coordinated bylaw team that works through Metro on ALR enforcement.

Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese said either scenario would amount to downloading from the province, which he said has failed to adequately fund the ALC.

Other concerns discussed included the proliferation of organic waste composting operations that aren’t always well operated, properly zoned or approved.

“These guys are cropping up everywhere,” Delta Coun. Ian Paton said. “There are two ways to make money farming these days. One is to take illegal soil on your farm and the second is to start composting.”

ALC officials said it’s an open question as to whether urban organic waste composting should be done on ALR land.

On one hand, farmers could benefit and be more viable if they can also sell the compost, nutrients or energy from organics, they said, but perhaps organics should instead be shipped elsewhere to keep local farmland free for farming.

The surge in organic waste flowing onto farmland is the result of Metro’s ban on dumping food waste in the garbage and the accompanying curbside collection programs of local cities.

“Composting is wonderful,” Bullock said. “But is it meant to be done in the cheapest possible way on the biggest agricultural piece we have and then it all of a sudden morphs into something way beyond what we all thought?

“Our agricultural land is not cheap industrial land. But that’s what too many people in the Lower Mainland are looking at.”

Bullock noted more change is the wings on what’s allowed in the ALR.

The province is expected to soon roll out regulations that could authorize new commercial or industrial uses in the ALR after conducting consultations on a discussion paper last summer.

“We’re expecting more clarity.”