Sidewinder: Jobs, taxes over carrots, cabbage

In the case of the Pelton farmlands, the simple truth lies in the economics of agriculture versus industry.

Maple Ridge Coun. Kiersten Duncan is questioning why council is again discussing the possibility of removing the former Pelton farm lands from the agricultural land reserve.

It’s really simple. Some things are discussed or considered many times before reaching a logical and viable conclusion. It’s akin to why some people run unsuccessfully for public office several times before they are finally elected, accept reality, or die.

In the case of the Pelton farmlands, the simple truth lies in the economics of agriculture versus industry. There is no practical way in which any farms facing the same constraints as the Pelton lands can compete successfully with vastly superior and far more highly productive land in B.C.’s Interior or imports from south of the border.

It might even be time to stop to reconsider the entire concept and validity of the agricultural land reserve as a method of ensuring agricultural capabilities for future generations.

Greenhouses, highrise rooftop gardens, vertical gardens and backyard home gardens are just a few of the ways agriculture can be sustained for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren without imposing the heavy hand and will of Big Brother on the owners of marginal rural lands.

The current application could create hundreds of well paying local industrial jobs and millions of dollars in property taxes in a way that Maple Ridge city hall has not been successful at in recent years.

The proximity of the land to Golden Ears Way provides easy access to all the major transportation facilities in the Lower Mainland and would be an extremely important adjunct to service the needs of Port Metro Vancouver, which has already reported a 2,000-hectare shortage in suitable industrial lands to service the port’s growing needs.

In the past, opponents of the Pelton application have even offered misleading photographic proof of the suitability of the land for agricultural purposes. Volunteers have been pictured holding a few bunches of carrots and a head of cabbage.

I have lived in the vicinity of the Pelton farm for longer than most of the protesters have lived in this area and I have never seen anyone profitably harvesting carrots or cabbages or any other food product except a poor grade of hay off those lands.

To be fair to Coun. Duncan, this application brings into question the viability of any agricultural land in Maple Ridge.

Provincial changes to the legislation governing the agricultural land reserve now permit certain industrial agricultural uses within the reserve, uses over which council has no jurisdiction, but are potentially ruinous to aquifers, such as medical marijuana grow operations.

That is just one example of ways in which the city’s jurisdiction is curtailed by senior levels of government.

Intensive dairy operations are also beyond municipal jurisdiction or control. These monster farms can create a devastating impact on surrounding properties and aquifers.

Although very strictly regulated, breeding and raising of swine could probably take place on a limited scale on the former Pelton farmlands, a small handful of those opposed to the Aquilini application see only sunshine and wonderful fields of veggies.

Those opponents of the current application to exclude the former Pelton farmlands from the agricultural land reserve seem to ignore an offer by the Aquilini group, the current owners, to include an agri-industry component within the development, something that probably doesn’t require removal from the reserve or any municipal approvals.

It’s time for Maple Ridge city council and the provincial land commission to enter the 21st Century with a bold new look at the desirable and probably inevitable future for the former Pelton farmlands.

Jobs and property taxes should overrule carrots and cabbages.

 

– Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former city councillor.

 

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