The provincial body tasked with protecting farmland is assuring neighbours who allege a farmer is dumping fill on his property that everything is being done by the book.
The Agricultural Land Commission visited Hang Cho’s farm, on 224th Street past 132nd Avenue, last week and did not find any violations.
Commission executive director Brian Underhill explained the work being done on the property is still in progress.
“Mr. Cho is a farmer who is working on constructing berms and farm roads as part of those berms,” said Underhill.
“We understand there are some concerns in the neighbourhood, not only about the flooding, but what is going his property. He is following the regulations under the [Agricultural Land Commission] Act. We fully recognize that there may be other regulations and rules that could apply that could involve the District of Maple Ridge, the Ministry of Environment and Department of Fisheries and Oceans or other agencies.”
The fill dumping has been permitted by the Agricultural Land Commission because it is considered a “farm use.”
However, the Alouette Valley Association and Cho’s neighbours believe the fill will only exacerbate flooding in the low-lying neighbourhood.
A hydrology study done by the district, released last month, found that “raising or in-filling of land” on the flood plain displaces water and relocates the flooding problem to other properties.
It recommended the district consider a strategy for flood management that ensures “new or upgraded flood protection structures do not adversely increase the overall flood hazard.”
The neighbours question why the land commission and District of Maple Ridge did not wait for a hydrology study to show the fill on Cho’s property wouldn’t displace water and allege the farmer is trying to make a quick buck by allowing developers to dump on the site.
The agricultural land commission insists it is closely monitoring the property with district staff.
“We understand that he has a consultant doing those studies,” said Underhill. “Our understanding is that there has been some good information that’s been provided to the contractor … to clarify what he is doing is consistent with the regulations.”
The property the soil is being loaded on is also up for sale for $1 million and being advertised online as a site in the Agricultural Land Reserve that has “the potential for a development.”
Underhill said the sale of the property would not play into the land commission’s considerations.
“At the end of the day, the works are not only being monitored, but if there is work to be completed, then whoever owns the property next will be expected to carry through,” he added.
Bruce Hobbs, a member of the Alouette Valley Association, which has worked hard to mitigate flooding in the area, believes the Agricultural Land Commission is out of line with its own regulations.
“The big thing lacking is that everyone keeps talking about the right to farm as if it’s some sacred cow,” said Hobbs.
“Nobody talks about the provision in the act which states that this right is tempered if it endangers neighbouring properties. The ALC refuse to address this part of the act.”
Under the act, although road and berm-building can be approved as a farm use, the activity must comply with local regulations such as stream setbacks.
As well, soil removal or placement of fill can be permitted “as long as it does not cause danger on or to adjacent land, structures or rights of way,” or “foul, obstruct or impede the flow of any waterway.”
Hobbs says the work being done is now within the 30-metre riparian zone that is meant to protect fish habitat and a stop work order should be issued by the district.
But the district insists Cho is following the bylaws.
“The people that live down there should not have to prove to the ALC that the activity is dangerous,” said Hobbs.
“Work should just be stopped until the ALC and Cho can prove that it is not dangerous. This is not unreasonable and is in line with their own act.”