Parksville council won’t support ALR removal of wetlands area

Mayor doesn’t believe Agricultural Land Commission commission will go against city’s wishes

Parksville staff, council and public comment is almost unanimously against a housing development in the Ermineskin wetlands in the southwest corner of the city.

“It’s outside the urban containment boundary, in the ALR (agricultural land reserve)… and there’s already a fairly major project now beginning in that area of the city,” summed up Mayor Chris Burger of the opposition evident when a request to support removal from the ALR went before council Monday.

“I’m extremely opposed…” he continued, “I would have a hard time supporting this even if there was no ALR component.”

The Alberta based owners of the land, Ermineskin Tribal Enterprises (ETE), have applied four times unsuccessfully to remove portions of the 35.9 hectare (88.7 acre) property from ALR protection to develop it and the latest proposal offers 24.2 ha. (67 per cent) to the city as parkland if they support it.

According to the staff report a copy of 20 comment sheets from an open house ETE hosted in July on their own initiative include just four comments in support. Also of the 31 letters sent to council, one supports the ALR removal and one is unclear.

Coun. Marc Lefebvre spoke in favour of the land as valuable agricultural land when that is more important than ever, referencing a report that farmers markets contribute $170 million annually to the B.C. economy and a fresh food store is opening in the city.

Coun. Carrie Powell-Davidson agreed and focused on the food argument.

“As an extremely active supporter of local food production and food security in our community I am opposed to this.”

“I go up there for the blackberries, they are so big and succulent,” said coun. Bill Neufeld who said that while ETE says it is not viable as agricultural land, it is indeed productive land and could be a great source of food “without a lot of herbicides and insecticides.”

The staff report says the land was already in the ALR when the company purchased it in 1981 and they have benefited from an automatic 50 per cent ALR reduction in taxes for the last 32 years.

The city offered to buy the property in closed door negotiations earlier this year, but ETE didn’t want to sell. The company could not be reached for comment.

Council voted unanimously against the removal, as the staff report recommended, which Burger had previously pointed out makes it very unlikely the Agricultural Land Commission would allow the removal.