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Unique ALR application in Chilliwack: Prime farmland in exchange for river flood protection

The 2012 freshet flooded farmland at Carey Point even washing away portions of this blueberry field. To offset the removal of farmland of a Parr Road property in Chilliwack, an ALR removal application suggests the construction of a multi-million-dollar berm to protect Carey Point. - Paul J. Henderson
The 2012 freshet flooded farmland at Carey Point even washing away portions of this blueberry field. To offset the removal of farmland of a Parr Road property in Chilliwack, an ALR removal application suggests the construction of a multi-million-dollar berm to protect Carey Point.
— image credit: Paul J. Henderson

It may be hard to fathom how anyone could support an application to remove 17.6 hectares of prime farmland out of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) to build an industrial park.

But what if that application comes with the landowner's promise to pay millions of dollars to build a berm to protect nearly nine times as much agricultural land threatened by flooding elsewhere?

That's what Chilliwack city council considered at Tuesday's meeting, and decided to forward the application to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) with support.

To offset the loss of farmland in the ALR, the applicant, local developer Peter Kingma (Homecraft Construction and Wilmark Homes), has agreed to spend as much as $6 million to build a low elevation berm on the Fraser River to protect the Carey Point area of the city from flooding.

"At the end of the day, this is something that will be beneficial to the City of Chilliwack," Coun. Ken Huttema said at Tuesday's meeting.

"We may lose a bit of agricultural land, but it definitely improves the quality and potential of the Carey Point lands and hopefully that puts that area of concern to rest for many years to come."

The area referred to as Carey Point includes 17 mostly agricultural properties of varying quality mostly on Ballam Road that are unprotected by the city's dike system. Carey Point has long been the subject of erosion at Fraser River freshet, but flooding was particularly bad in 2012.

 

 

The decision to exclude the land from the ALR resides with the ALC, but all applications of this kind are first sent to affected municipalities who then forward them on to the commission with support, without support or with no comment. It's the City of Chilliwack's general policy to send applications on without comment, but council does occasionally reject a removal application and sometimes support one.

Kingma has twice been rejected by the ALC to remove this same property from the ALR, first in 2003 and again in 2012. In that second application, the property was described as a peninsula of ALR land between City of Chilliwack urban area and Squiala First Nation's development lands. In exchange for the removal, the 2012 application sought to obtain non-ALR lands in Abbotsford, consolidate them and have them included in the ALR. Kingma told the ALC he owns arable non-ALR land adjacent to existing ALR land near the Prince George airport that could be included too.

In the end, the ALC found that excluding 18.1 ha of Class 1 and 2 farmland that is in production in exchange for 13.5 ha of Class 3 farmland not in production would represent "a substantial loss of immediate and long-term agricultural potential, which would not be fully offset by remediation of the Abbotsford land or inclusion of land at Prince George."

The current application, however, comes with support from the city's Agricultural Advisory Committee (AAC), a body that is not know for going easy on exclusion applications.

It comes, too, with an agrologists's report that finds the overall removal combined with the flood protection along the Fraser River does indeed benefit agriculture.

"[A]lthough removal of the 42 acres of high quality farmland located in Chilliwack will be a loss to the agriculture land base, the benefits to agriculture sector and the farming community from protecting the 385 acres (295 acres in production) of farmland at Carey Point are substantial," the report by Dave Melnychuk from March 28, 2013 states.

The exclusion of the property, which is in between the urban corridor of Yale Road and Eagle Landing Parkway, would also facilitate the eventual connection of Airport Road to the new commercial development on Squiala lands.

A city staff report presented Tuesday stated there is a shortage of land for future economic development.

"The 2013 commercial supply is estimated at 55 hectares (ha), compared with a 30-year demand of 113 ha; and the 2013 industrial supply is estimated at 113 ha, compared with a 30-year demand of 162 ha."

As a result, the land has been included inside the "urban containment boundary" in the recent draft Official Community Plan (OCP).

 

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