Soil Deposit on Agricultural Land ! – Part one – It is NOT about Agriculture – It IS about Money! – It IS Landfill Farming!

Posted: March 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

The Township of Langley is the home to numerous and very questionable soil deposits that have left devastating consequences in their wake. What has the Township of Langley been up to? It is long past due to call each member of council to account! They are responsible!

Important Note: The Landfill issue is a very serious rural concern and another example of Municipal neglect that affects property values and livability, not unlike Athenry, Forewest, Mufford Cresc. Overpass and Fort Langley issues do in our urban environment. Regardless of where you live in the Township of Langley, issues such as this affect your fellow residents. We should all be very concerned about how all of our communities are being treated by Municipal Hall and your elected Council. 

This is first in a series telling the real story! Due to the length and complexity of this issue I will lay it out in increments in a series of Posts.

I think a little history is in order to put this issue into context! – The Township of Langley is a very unique municipality in the Province of British Columbia.  50% of all farms in Metro Vancouver are in the Township of Langley and we have more farm properties than any other Municipality / City in British Columbia. (75% – 80% of our land base is in the ALR) There is a good deal of history that goes with that but it starts back at the time the Agricultural Land Reserve was being established. The stampede to subdivide rural properties prior to the implementation of the ALR left the Township with a very large number of 2 acre, 3 acre, 5 acre and 10 acre properties, all in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). Unfortunately, due to years of mismanagement by an endless number of Township Municipal Councils who have been pre occupied with property deals and looking the other way when it came to soil deposits, not one of them has addressed the problem of soil deposits and Intensive Agriculture on small acreages. While there is Provincial Legislation on “Right to Farm” which affects intensive agriculture, soil deposits on Agricultural Land (ALR) are a Non-Farm use and in THE control of the Municipality / City involved.

We have an endless number of permitted devastating soil deposits on properties throughout the Township of Langley where there has been absolutely no oversight and/or control. The end result of these permitted and non-permitted soil deposits have caused serious flooding and reduced property values throughout the Township of Langley. Actual deposits have been exceeded by up to twenty times and more, their permitted quantity. Many of the types of soil deposits being deposited are devastating for any possible agricultural use. When you talk to the uninformed about soil deposits, their first questions is why isn’t something done? There is one short and quick answer “Follow the Money”! Soil deposits are a very lucrative way of making money; consider a soil deposit of 20,000 truck-loads at a fee of $60.00 per load (fees can range from $50.00 to $80.00 per load) Income in this example = $1,200,000.00. NOT A BAD RETURN, at the expense of the neighbors! More important is the question, a return for who?

Starting in the fall of 2008! Soil Deposit abuse had been going on in the Township of Langley for decades with hundreds if not thousands of dumpsites, permitted and non-permitted over the years. Controls over those soil deposits have been virtually non-existent as many affected land owners have unfortunately found out with devastating results. As development grew and expanded in the Township of Langley, pressure grew for more and more soil deposit sites and in my view the already non-existent oversight was magnified exponentially.

Leading up to and after the 2008 election, when I was elected Mayor, all we heard from staff and Council members in the community in answer to community complaints on soil deposits was “approval was the responsibility of the Agricultural Land Commission”. Well that is what we thought and what we were told at the time. As I said in an earlier post “I trust everyone until they give me reason not to”.

Well, speak of a reason not to!

Shortly after the election I got very involved with a number of resident complaints, all justified as I saw them. The problem grew with more complaints and thus more investigation on my part. The more we investigated, talked to staff and talked to our lawyers, I took the view that we had to challenge this senior authority and the ALR Provincial Act as we were told that it was the governing body over this issue. After more than a year of my office challenging and I might add disagreeing with staff and our lawyers on many occasions as to their interpretation of the legislation, a very interesting letter came across my desk. The truth was out!

A lengthy letter was sent to a landowner in South Langley from senior staff member Colin Fry, at the ALC in which he stated “Soil Deposit on Agricultural Land is a Non-Farm use and under the control of the Municipality / City involved.” I was copied on this letter. With this clearly stated, contrary to previous statements made by those involved at the Township, I called our CAO and our lawyers at Bull Houser &Tupper (BH&T) for clarification given we had been told something different than previously thought. Senior staff continued to disagree despite this statement by ALC Staff, however I requested legal Counsel to contact Mr. Fry for clarification. BH & T did, and after a long telephone conversation with the ALC and two letters back and forth we now had an agreed understanding of the truth behind the rules. Staff continued to say this was a change in interpretation; something that I believe was and is patently false. This led to a little shock treatment to members of council as it was a complete change from what they had been told by staff. Well interestingly enough this was only the tip of the iceberg!

Fast forward to the Spring of 2010 and the Monday morning of an in-camera Council meeting at which we were going to deal with the whole issue of soil deposits with our lawyer present. I can tell you, in this job you never knew what was going to happen next!

Well what was next? Of everything I was dealt during my term, what transpired next was quite frankly the most shocking and that is saying something. On the Monday morning of that in-camera meeting I received a call from a resident who told me that he heard there was a resolution of Council in November of 2005 to send all applications for soil deposits to the ALC for review and approval. With all due respect to the individual that phoned me I believe I told him that he didn’t know what he was talking about, but I would investigate further. Having said that I phoned Mark Bakken our CAO and asked him if there was a resolution of Council in November of 2005; His answer, no there was no resolution of Council but there was a letter from him to the ALC. I asked for a copy of it immediately and was quite taken back at what was put on my desk a short time later. Well here it is:

November 22, 2005                                                                                                   File No. 5280-14

Provincial Agricultural Land Commission

Room #133, 4940 Canada Way

Burnaby BC V5G 4K6

Attention: Colin Fry

Re:  Council Resolution for Fill Sites Located Within the Township of Langley

The Soil and Other Material Deposit Regulation Bylaw 1993 No. 2871, approved by Township Council on March 14, 1994, provides that Council may, by bylaw, regulate or prohibit the deposit of soil, sand, gravel, rock or other material on land within any area of the Township of Langley, and require the holding of a permit for this purpose.

Council has enabled Township staff to control the deposition of soils and other materials within the Township by giving Township staff the authorization to issue Soil Deposit Permits on behalf of Council. Furthermore, Township Council has authorized staff to forward all non-farm use applications associated with applicable soil deposition to the Commission for review and decision.

If you have any questions or comments please contact Clive Roberts at 604 533-6144.

Yours truly,

Mark A. Bakken

MUNICIPAL ADMINISTRATOR

Now remember, under Provincial ALC Legislation a resolution of Council is required before a soil deposit application can be forwarded to the ALC. Now here we have a letter from the CAO of the Township of Langley to a Provincial Crown Agency (ALC) stating there was a resolution of Council when in fact there wasn’t a resolution of Council. As a result of this action they proceeded to send all soil deposit applications to the ALC for review and decision despite the legislation that was in place and essentially washed their hands of any repercussions. Staff and Council have a Fiduciary responsibility to residents of the Township of Langley to act in their interest. What went wrong? How could they disregard this responsibility?

We then went into our in-camera meeting and took steps to correct what had been going on in the Township for a number of years. The question I have – How many soil deposit applications were forwarded to the ALC between Nov. 22nd, 2005 and the date we uncovered the document without a resolution of Council being passed? Are these applications legal? What is the potential liability to the Township for damages potentially caused by this action for this interim period, about 4 ½ years?

Now on the heels of this revelation (on or about June 10th, 2010), I received a copy of the following memo dated June 23rd, 2010. This memo was sent out to those Councilors who were on Council at the time Mark Bakken wrote the letter to Colin Fry of the ALC (Nov. of 2005). It is interesting on a couple of points, 1) all members of Council as of June 23rd, 2010 did not receive a copy of this memo, only those on council as of Nov. 22nd, 2005 and 2) The members who were on Council with me and were on Council as of November 22nd, 2005 did not react nor respond to the letter and memo despite there being no resolution as stated. What did the June 23rd, 2010 memo from Mark Bakken imply to Councilors Ferguson, Kositsky, Long, Richter and Ward?

The following memo was on Township of Langley letterhead      

TO: COUNCILLORS FERGUSON, KOSITSKY,

LONG, RICHTER, WARD

DATE: JUNE 23, 2010

FROM: MARK A. BAKKEN, ADMINISTRATOR

FILE NO:

SUBJECT: FILL SITE APPLICATION PROCESSING IN THE FALL OF 2005

As you may recall at our meeting of June 7, 2010 a Memo was distributed with recommendations which were adopted by Council as to the processing of fill sites.

Inquiries have been made about the process and decision in the Fall of 2005 to forward all nonfarm use applications to the ALC. As you are the Councillors that were on Council at that time the following information may be relevant.

As you may recall, after thorough discussions with the ALC and Township Legal Counsel, Staff and Council were of the understanding that there were two types of fill applications: farm usefill applications and non-farm use fill applications. There was a further understanding that any fill applications that would assist, improve or make lands better for farming were required to be forwarded to the ALC for processing. If there was a non-farm use fill application it was understood that the Township could make the decision but that if the Township were in favour that the application would then be sent to the ALC for consideration.

Records and recollections from that era indicate discussions with Council which indicate that if farm use fill were to be handled by the ALC they should also process the non-farm use fill applications as it was likely they would only be approved if there was some collateral farm benefit. Again, this was discussed with Council, however no formal resolution was obtained.

The appropriateness and propriety of this approach has been raised and Staff are still comfortable with processing simple non-contentious matter on the advice of Council, however these concerns may be raised again in future. If Council requires we can be more formal on these matters, however Staff are still comfortable acting on items discussed at the Council table.

This matter has become topical due to the recent clarification by the ALC Staff that the physical act of importation and deposit of fill in virtually all circumstances is considered a non-farm use and therefore the Township has jurisdiction in the fill site issue. For your records attached is the copy of the November 2005 letter and the June 7, 2010 Council resolution.

Thank you.

MAB

Attach (2)

IMPORTANT NOTE Re above memo: In the attempt to provide a prompt to the affected councilors to some history Mark Bakken states in the last sentence of paragraph 3 above “If there was a non-farm use fill application it was understood that the Township could make the decision but that if the Township were in favor that the application would then be sent to the ALC for consideration.” This statement was made while ignoring the legislated requirement for a Resolution of Council. What? Do we now get to decide what rules we have to follow?

Summary: Well I believe there are many questions that should be asked. First there is a letter to the ALC speaking to a resolution of Council when there wasn’t one. This is an apparent violation of provincial legislation related to the need for a municipal Council resolution (and one did not exist) and then there is a follow up memo attempting to remind those members of Council of some history related to the Nov. 2005 letter to the ALC. Now I am not a lawyer so I won’t suggest any wrong doing, however I am not stupid, having had years of successful business experience, both ownership and Corporate. I have never seen anything like this. You make up your mind and ask if your best interests are being served by staff and Council.

RG

I am working on a few posts at present that I believe are of significant concern to Township of Langley Residents plus a continuation of our series on Soil Deposit issues! Check in daily!

Protect your Democratic Rights – Protect your NEIGHBORS Democratic Rights – stay informed, stay involved and VOTE!!!

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Comments
  1. Brian Anderson says:

    Good day Rick;

    I would like to agree with you on some of your soil deposit issues as stated but we must remember not to paint all of them with the same brush. Agreed that some are cash grabs. Just ask who owns the property and what their income source is on the day they applied for the permit, not what they tell you it will be after they have a completed site!

    I have a permitted soil deposit site on a piece of ALR land.

    My name is Brian Anderson and I own and operate (I know you know) Aldor Acres Dairy Centre in Northeast Langley. My sole income comes from farming and my intent is to improve the land that is currently and slowly being filled so that I can grow more forage for my dairy herd and import less. Again not all sites are bad! Our agrologist that makes frequent site visits is very happy with the site as are my wife Erin and I as we take bi-weekly walks to do our own inspections.

    The whole ALR system may not fit well with the Langley area due to our small parcel sizes but it is the best we have so let’s deal with the whole urban sprawl issue wisely and cautiously. If we build the homes the material needs to come from somewhere and go somewhere from the time a treed area or bareland is developed right past when residents live there as well.

    Do I smell NYMBI again in many parts of the Township??

    • Hi Brian: No you know me better than that, this isn’t a blanket anti soil deposit rant, and it definitely isn’t NYMBISM, it is a justifiable rant against what this Municipality has been up to fo years. I hope you follow my future Posts because it will all come into focus. We are not dealing with the whole urban sprawl issue wisely nor are we, in the vast majority of soil deposits in the TOL, dealing with the rural issues wisely. When you have senior staff making arbitrary decisions to by-pass legislation you have a serious out of control problem. IF anyone out there believes this action is OK then I would have to ask what by-laws, rules, regulations we will break next and WHO will make that decision? Possibly zoning doesn’t matter or OCPs or actions that will affect the farming community. Brian, if we only had your type to deal with (that is good by the way) we would be in good shape. The number of issues I uncovered in three years as Mayor speaks to what is fundamentally wrong. Stay tuned, future posts will clearly explain that all soil deposits are not created equal. Rick

      • John M. says:

        There is another side to the the soil dumping issue that we have witnessed in the township. That is where a company doing large scale excavation will seek a dump site that is close to the dig site so as to save money by shortening the trucking time and distance. I’m sure residents will remember the attempt to completely fill in a very pretty lake (former quarry) in an equally pretty residential area of the township. Those behind the proposal put up a strong fight for it’s success and might have succeeded, if not for the strong resistance put up by the locals and their many supporters from other areas in the township.

        Listening to the rational of those who would destroy this much appreciated park like area was really painful to hear. It was a classic case of not thinking about people first, before jumping on somebody’s bandwagon (I don’t remember who the bandleader was). The above proposal should have been nipped in the bud when first brought to the attention of the Langley Township Council. Instead it lingered until the fishy smell was too strong, and then it died quietly.

        Keep it up Rick. The people of Langley Township deserve to hear your voice.

  2. Hi Rick,

    Your comments on fill in the ALR are absolutely bang on. What is scary is that it seems to be happening throughout the region. In Richmond it has not been clear who has jurisdiction and some bad decisions have been made. Richmond is presently reviewing a 34 acre non-farm fill application while the ALC approved fill on another 35 acre property without Richmond’s input. As a resuly we have asked for input on both farm use and non farm use fill applications. I kook forward to your next blog on this topic.

    Cheers,
    Harold

    • Harold: Good to hear from you. Ian Paton and I had some good talks about this issue my last year. I have a good amount of material (proof) to back up what I say. The facts are as follows – Landfill/Soil Deposits on ALR land IS a NON-FARM USE and is in the control of the Municipality/City. example – Resident comes into the Hall and fills out a soil deposit application, the application comes to council for a resolution to support or not. If a council resolution is passed the application goes to the ALC for review and decision with council support BUT IF Council says no / rejects the application, the appliaction stays at the Hall as a rejected application. The only time the Soil Deposit Application will be dealt with is IF it is sent to the ALC. Once the ALC receives any application it is solely in their hands. Provincial Legislation states that all applications sent to the ALC for review and decision MUST be accompanied by a Council Resolution. If you need anymore background give me a call.

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