Will agricultural land boundary review go ahead?

The Regional District of East Kootenay is seeking clarification from the B.C. government on a review of local agricultural land

The regional district is concerned that a review of the Agricultural Land Reserve’s boundaries in the East Kootenay may not be going ahead as planned.

On Friday, December 6, the Regional District of East Kootenay board of directors decided to put their concerns in a letter to B.C. Premier Christy Clark, Minister of Agriculture Pat Pimm, and the Minister Responsible for the Core Review, Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett.

“We had heard rumour that the boundary review that was underway in Area A and was going to come this spring to Area B and C was postponed, was stopped – we didn’t know what the status of that was,” explained board chair Rob Gay.

“We have never seen anything official; staff has never received a report… Is it business as usual and can we expect it?”

The boundary review was announced by the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), a Crown corporation that oversees the reserve, in May 2012.

ALC Chair Richard Bullock appeared at a RDEK meeting to tell the board that the commission planned to begin a review of the East Kootenay boundaries this fall.

The Agricultural Land Reserve was established in the 1970s to protect the erosion of B.C.’s agricultural land to urbanization. The boundaries encompass 4.7 million hectares of public and private land that may be farmed, forested or vacant. About five per cent of the province is inside the ALR.

Owners of property within the ALR are subject to land use rules that differ from the rest of the province. Because farming is deemed the priority for that property, non-agricultural uses are regulated. If the property owner wants to subdivide the land, use it for non-farm purposes or exclude it from the ALR, it needs approval by the ALC.

“They feel that (in) the Island, the Okanagan and the Lower Mainland, the boundaries are pretty accurate. Now it’s the southeast corner and the northeast corner where they would like to solidify the boundaries,” said Gay. “In our case, the boundaries are not correct in some areas, especially the steep slopes and rocky ground. It’s just from the way they did the survey. I look forward to them coming out and doing it.”

However, last month, the Globe and Mail leaked a letter written by Deputy Agricultural Minister Derek Sturko, asking commission chair Richard Bullock to suspend any decisions about adjusting reserve land boundaries in the East Kootenay region until the province’s core review of government operations is completed.

Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett, who is the B.C. Minister Responsible for the Core Review, has since said that the ALC will not be dismantled or brought under the control of the Minister of Agriculture.

But the regional district board is still concerned what the core review means for the ALC and the East Kootenay boundary review.

“There had been discussions about moving it from a Crown corporation that is arms’ length from government to putting it back under the Ministry of Agriculture. It sounds like that isn’t going to happen but we don’t know for sure. We’ve seen so much different correspondence,” said Gay. “Those are the two points we want to make: the status of the commission and the status of the boundary review.”

With files from Canadian Press