A moment to reconsider the Albion flats

Editor, The News:Nearly two years ago, the first signs of a determined, orchestrated campaign became evident with the appearance of  a prominent sign along the Lougheed Highway, promoting a shopping centre.The  unspoken truth was that most of the agricultural land bought by  SmartCentres, the mall company,  at lower  agricultural  land prices, would hopefully be rezoned  as  commercial property, vastly increased land values.Since then, a group calling itself Residents for Smart Shopping has repeated slogans that huge companies know became  ‘The Real Thing.’I am struck by the links between the name of the   group and the landowners. A coincidence? The slogans repeatedly tell us that we need a larger tax base,  more  shopping centres, more employment. In the absence of critical analysis, such repetitions  take on the form of facts for many. It’s a form of the well-tried formula: create  a need and seek to fill it.The use of ‘smart’ also hints that those who oppose the move are not smart. We really  need to have a closer look before making dumb decisions.The suggestion that we need more big malls is questionable.   The background reports by the consultants state that by 2017, there would be a demand for only 303,000 square feet  of commercial space,  and even that low figure did not take into account the malls planned in Pitt Meadows  nor the likelihood of a mall on the Kwantlen First Nations land  along the highway just east of Albion.  Stats Canada reveals that the majority of Canadians are too deeply in debt from overspending, so excess mall space cannot benefit us.Most of our shopping needs can be satisfied locally. Yet some say that they are compelled to shop outside our area. What for?A worst case scenario for me would be the building of a big box mall anchored by a Walmart  or  something similar, offering low wages and many goods made by workers paid below poverty levels.Local businesses employ thousands of people and their profits remain local. Most are generous in their support of local sports, charities or cultural events.   It seems strange that municipal hall can expend time and money enhancing our downtown, then appear to support plans that could displease  those businesses.Also, we are told  repeatedly that  ‘unused’ land must be made useful.International reports warn us that factors like climate change,  freak storms  and  droughts, loss of arable land and crop failures could cause food shortages and increases in the  prices  of nearly all essential commodities. The most essential resource, the land that sustains nearly all forms of  planetary life, is getting scarcer.   And  poverty rates are rising.The ‘useless’ Albion flats  are home to  an impressive range of life-forms observed by consultants in June 2010.   A total of 28 bird species were seen. Migratory birds use the  area as a stop-over. Bears, deer, mink, raccoons and voles and other rodents are still present.  The rodents are an important food source for  uncommon raptors like  the red-tailed and Cooper’s hawks. The cottonwood trees  are suitable nesting places for Great Blue  Herons.The  flats are part of the Fraser Valley Flood Plain,  so much of the lower areas are  wetlands, which act as filters, removing pollutants, but also  providing habitat for marine life, a key part of the food chain supporting declining species  like  the Green Heron and Pacific Water Shrew.Many smaller tributaries like Spencer Creek  are important habitat for trout and various salmonid species. Maple Ridge has a rare gem that should be preserved, much as Stanley Park is an asset for Vancouver. As urban sprawl continues, the breathing space will increase in value. Not surprisingly,  the attempt to  remove land from the agricultural reserve will  probably be rejected.In 1914,  the  last  passenger pigeon died in a zoo cage, despite desperate efforts to get a few dozen to breed in captivity. They were the last of  the billions that had once darkened the skies of the vast U.S.  prairies for countless centuries.  One  can coin the phrase, “passenger acres” that refer to those valuable acres that almost  daily  are being lost to  urban sprawl. Of the 310 acres that comprise the Albion flats, a plan now considered by Maple Ridge council leaves 1.25 acres for agriculture.A councillor who said that the owners have the right to do what they wish with the land, regardless of  consequences, spoke, I believe, too hastily.Charles EllmanMaple Ridge