Estimates Debates: Agriculture Ministry

MLA Sonia Furstenau


S. Furstenau: Thank you to the member for Delta South for that. We're always having to juggle our schedules and try to keep to things.

I have one area of questions that I just very quickly want to touch base with the minister on, and then I'll hand it over to my colleague from Saanich North and the Islands. We have a community in the Cowichan Valley. Kingburne is the name of this community. They've created a community association, largely due to impacts that the residents of this community have experienced as a result of quarrying activity on ALR land on a property in their region.

There was an approval in 2004 by the Agricultural Land Commission for extraction of rock for an irrigation pond on a property. But after 13 years of extraction, this landowner, GT Farms, was required to apply for a mines permit.

Now the same property owner has begun another extraction. It has a permit from the Agricultural Land Commission and is also being considered as agricultural use, agricultural activity. Yet the residents are very concerned that the same pattern is repeating, and that after 10, 12 or 14 years, then it will finally be turned over to the Ministry of Mines to oversee and regulate what is essentially mining activity — extraction and quarrying.

So my first question is kind of an umbrella question, and that, for the minister, is: what criteria must be met for excavation on ALR land to be classified as non-farm use? So, at what point does extraction and quarrying become non-farm use?

Hon. L. Popham: It's really nice to see you, Member. I haven't seen your face for a while.

Okay, good question. In the past, with that prior example that the member brought up, there was a title of non-farm use for ag, which was a really vague title, and there was a lot of vagueness around what you could or couldn't do and for the length of time.

We've substantially changed that. We don't have anything called non-farm use for ag as far as soil goes. It's now called soil or fill use. And what triggers an application is an extraction of 500 cubic metres per year — more than that. If you want to do more than that, you have to put in an application to the commission. And at that point, the commission will deem whether or not it it's needed for agricultural uses.

S. Furstenau: Nice to see the minister as well.

Just quickly, does the minister have any idea how many…? In this case, extraction is happening and trucks are being filled and they're driving away. How many truckloads would 500 cubic metres a year amount to?

Hon. L. Popham: There are about seven cubic metres in a truckload, so it would be 70 truckloads, approximately.

S. Furstenau: I know that my colleague also has a lot of questions, so I'm going to just kind of try to wrap this all into one thing. This is that for the residents of this community, what they've experienced is an enormous amount of what has essentially amounted to mining activity.

The roads in this area are incredibly narrow. There is increased truck traffic. There have been incidents where mining material has gone up in the sky and landed in neighbouring properties. There are definitely worries about impacts to groundwater. What they are experiencing, now that they're in round two of this, where another permit has been granted by the ALC, is that…. This is a quote from the letter they got from the ALC: "The ALC is not mandated to consider issues relating to traffic, groundwater, noise, terrain hazards in their review of activities on the ALR."

So what these people are experiencing is mining activity happening in their neighbourhood without the oversight of the mining ministry and with the ALC saying: "We don't do oversight on those activities because it's not in our realm."

This will be my last question, I guess, for the minister. This is a bit more of a philosophical question. Does she recognize that these impacts are happening in communities when what is essentially extraction is happening without the oversight and regulation that one would expect from the Ministry of Mines and that that is having impacts on these rural communities, and does she see the need for either the ALC to be able to regulate or for a recognition that all extraction activities should have oversight from the Ministry of Mines?

Hon. L. Popham: Thanks so much to the member for bringing this forward. I definitely think that my staff would be able to get in touch with the ministry responsible for mines and have a discussion. And it would be important for me that we follow up with a meeting with you.