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Metro criticizes port land-use plan on farmland, coal exports

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie. - Black Press file photo
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie.
— image credit: Black Press file photo

Metro Vancouver directors say a draft land-use plan drawn up by Port Metro Vancouver allows too much scope to eventually convert big chunks of farmland to industrial port uses.

The plan, which is in the final stages of public consultations, aims to guide port decisions on the lands and waters under its jurisdiction for the next 15 to 20 years.

It includes five special study areas – four in Richmond and one in Pitt Meadows – where Metro-designated agricultural land could eventually be reconsidered for port use.

The properties, including the Gilmore Farm bought in Richmond by the port five years ago without advising Metro, continue to be leased to farmers.

But Metro politicians fear the port will ultimately override both Metro's regional growth strategy and the province's Agricultural Land Reserve.

"We know it's just a matter of when they want to incorporate it as industrial land," Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie told Metro's transportation committee Wednesday.

"It's an outrageous situation where this federally appointed group is coming in with a sledgemamer or an axe into city lands and deciding what the use is."

Metro wants the port to rule out non-agricultural uses of farmland and to discourage commercial development of port lands.

And the regional district is also challenging the port to explain how potential development of the study areas could comply with the regional growth strategy.

Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs suggested Metro consider refusing to provide sewer and water service to any industrialized farmland that the port develops in contravention of the Metro growth strategy.

Port officials say the conversion of industrial land to residential use over the years has shrunk the footprint of usable port lands in the region, while the port needs to grow to accommodate burgeoning trade between Canada and Asia.

Industrial land in the region has shrunk 27 per cent in the past 25 years and port officials say available lands will only satisfy demand for the next 10 years.

"We want assurances that this isn't a battle that we keep having to fight about whether or not the port is acquiring or planning to change agricultural land over to industrial, while utilizing the power of the federal government," said Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, chair of Metro's regional planning and agriculture committee.

He said it's disappointing the port may still allow a new coal export terminal at  Fraser Surrey Docks.

The proposed coal handling facility has not yet been approved and a decision awaits further revision of an assessment of environmental and health risks.

Corrigan called it a misuse of the port land on the Fraser River in Surrey, which he said should instead be used as a short-sea shipping terminal where containers could be efficiently moved inland and distributed South of the Fraser.

That could reduce the numbers of container trucks now trundling from terminals on Burrard Inlet through Vancouver and Burnaby and across congested bridges to reach eastern parts of the Lower Mainland, he said.

"If we're accepting that the port is going to grow in the future, it has to be smart growth," Corrigan said. "To make it a commodity port – a coal port – in the middle of an urban centre affecting both New Westminster and Surrey seems patently ridiculous."

Corrigan said the Port Metro Vancouver board is dominated by private businesses that also run terminals and sometimes appears to make decisions that benefit those operators over the short term at the expense of good long-term planning.

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