I wrote in a previous MLA Report about the problems with the traffic projections underpinning the business case of the Massey bridge project. Today I would like to highlight some of the issues around the agricultural assessment that was included in the government's application. You may have heard the claims that the bridge will result in a net increase in ALR land, which sounds like great news.
According to the application, the project will require 20 hectares of existing ALR land, 17 hectares of which are presently in production. The government says it plans to offset those losses by putting 21.4 hectares of unused highway right-ofway into the ALR, for a supposed net gain of 1.4 hectares.
But that net gain starts to fall apart when you look at the details. To ensure a net gain of productive farmland, 80 per cent of the old highway rightof-way would have to be put into production: yet there is no plan to monitor whether the inclusions are successfully integrated into existing farmland. Furthermore, one hectare of the net gain will literally be located under new highway on-ramps - not exactly high-value agricultural real estate.
Sixty per cent of the total ALR loss will be in Delta. Of the total 11.9 hectares being lost in Delta, the vast majority is currently productive ALR land. The government says 11.2 hectares of new farmland will be added to the ALR in Delta to compensate, but it also says 2.7 hectares will no longer be suitable for agricultural production. Strangely, it neglected to count that as a loss of productive land.
So, when all the numbers are added up, Delta will actually see a net loss of 2.1 hectares of productive farmland.
The government also displays a willful ignorance of the existing pressures on local farmland. It claims the bridge will "encourage denser, land intensive, high quality forms of development within existing land uses." Essentially it is saying the ALR will act as a firewall against further development.
But my office has mapped hundreds of acres along the project corridor that are either owned by holding and real estate companies or that are currently engaged in nonfarm use. When you add those pressures to the demands of the port; when the province refuses to say it will protect Delta's farmland from industrialization; when you read the recent statement by the federal minister of agriculture that the port needs to pave agricultural land - some 1,500 acres, by the Delta Farmers' Institute's estimate - for the good of B.C. agriculture, the future of the ALR in our community starts to look very bleak indeed.
The George Massey Tunnel is a congested nightmare, and we need a new crossing. But that's no excuse for the government's shoddy application for this $3.5-billion project.
My full submission to the Environmental Assessment Office touches on other shortcomings. You can find the submission at http://vickihuntington.ca/blog/masseysubmission.