Soil Deposit on Agricultural Land ! – Part two……… It gets more interesting; Non-farm use soil deposits are Out of Control!

Posted: April 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

In part one I uncovered and exposed the fact that the Township of Langley deliberately misled residents from November of 2005 about Soil Deposit responsibility on Agricultural Land. This lasted until June of 2010, the month we uncovered the November 2005 letter to the ALC stating they had a resolution but in fact they had no resolution. The Township of Langley knowingly went against the requirements of Provincial Legislation. It was now time to correct the problem. Well, anywhere else it would have been easy, but in the Township there were and are other forces at work!!

First let me be very clear – this is not about banning Soil Deposits on Agricultural Land but it is about abiding by legislation allowing appropriately planned, inspected and responsible Soil Deposits. Rural property owners should expect to have their property protected against the actions of irresponsible neighboring land owners. Unfortunately in the Township of Langley we have been pre-disposed with protecting the offenders (problem soil deposits) than we are innocent land owners that want nothing more but to maintain their land in the condition they bought it. They want to protect it’s value; not too much to ask?

This entire soil deposit on agricultural land issue – the uncovering of the 2005 letter to the ALC from the Township Chief Administrative Officer (CAO); followed by the memo to only five councilors by the CAO in an attempt to prop up his defense of that letter and most important; a letter from the ALC clearly defining soil deposit on agricultural land being a non-farm use. Up to this point, for the best part of the past decade the Township of Langley had been the wild, wild west for soil deposit on Agricultural Land. Put it another way it was and is “a license to print money”. This was all the result of a legal interpretation of the act by Township lawyers, so says Councilor Fox. Is that what it was, really Councilor Fox, or was it possibly an intentional attempt to circumvent Provincial Legislation? Just asking the question?

The following is an interesting contradiction; NOW WHO WOULD YOU BELIEVE?

In an interview with the Aldergrove Star May 31st Fry said “both of these cases are considered non-farm use and local government has the authority to reject them and not forward them to the ALC for consideration. In our legislation for applications that are called non-farm uses, and in fact those involving fill, an application of that nature may not proceed to the (ALC) unless authorized by a forwarding resolution of Council,” said Fry. Colin Fry – Executive Director Agricultural Land Commission

Fox lashes out at ALC Staff – “Fox disagrees with Fry’s interpretation, believing council must send every application to the ALC for them to make a decision.” Monique Tamminga, Times Reporter.

In my view: – Somehow Councilor Fox you come out second best in that comparison which is certainly not surprising given your track record. Colin Fry’s reputation is beyond reproach! After three years sitting in the Mayor’s office I have another, very clear view – Staff and Legal Counsel are only advisers to members of Council, it is incumbent on members of Council to ask the pertinent questions and challenge those providing the advice and not sit there nodding their heads and taking orders. If bad advice is given by staff and Legal Counsel they should be called to account. This is an extremely serious miscalculation and misreading of the ALC legislation. It should never have happened let alone be defended by members of Council.

So where are we now? This brings us to a June 7th, 2010 Special Council Meeting when the following resolution of Council was passed unanimously:

That Council direct that:

  1. A letter of thanks be issued to the staff of the Agricultural Land Commission (“ALC”) for the Letter and the detailed analysis therein provided as quickly as they did; and further that
  2. Staff work with legal counsel to amend and revise Township of Langley Bylaws and policies in accordance with the Letter (the “Review”); and further that
  3. until the Review is complete that all soil deposit applications for the removal or deposit of fill in excess of 600 cubic meters (approximately 100 loads) be referred to Council for consideration; and further that
  4. Council request that all soil deposit applications presently with the ALC originating in the Township of Langley be referred back to the Township for consideration in accordance with the Letter; and further that
  5. processing of future soil deposit and removal applications by Council be deferred until the Review is complete; and further that
  6. after Council has considered a soil deposit or removal application, that the ALC be provided with notification of the decision to ensure compliance with the Act and the Regulation; and
  7. that this memorandum and the attached materials be released to the public.

Carried

This resolution was passed by Council on June 7th 2010, with most of the above entered into the Township of Langley POLICY MANUAL – Policy 05-776 dated 2010.07.19. Number 2 and 5 above was ignored by council and staff. Why? Does staff get to pick and choose what they want to follow?

Fast forward to the Spring of 2012, a full two years later when a number of rural residents throughout the Township of Langley got together over some serious concerns about some planned fill sites. Delegations were planned and received by Township of Langley Council. Through this initiative which received considerable media attention at the time they discovered that the resolution of June 2010 was not followed in it’s entirety. The June 2010 resolution called for an amendment and revision of the Township by-laws. As residents found out in the Spring of 2012, this requested by-law revision and amendment was not acted upon.

So, in typical Township of Langley Council fashion they further complicate the issue – WHY was it not acted on? The June 2010 resolution of Council clearly stated that staff and legal counsel would collaborate in it’s revision and amendment? Who are we trying to benefit?

Councilor Fox once again gets in the way by offering the following motion for the Sept. 10th, 2012 meeting of Council –

Whereas, the Township of Langley has received a growing number of fill site applications; and

Whereas, these applications are contentious and enforcement has been downloaded to Township personnel and resources at the local taxpayers expense; and

Whereas, the Township of Langley has received legal advice that it cannot formally establish a moratorium or prohibition on any fill site applications, it can only regulate them,

Therefore, be it resolved that the issue of non-farm use fill site applications on ALR Lands be referred to staff to provide an appropriate radius of influence and neighbourhood approval threshold to establish a benchmark before these applications may come before Council for due consideration, and

Further, all fill site applications presently in stream  be put on hold until the new approval threshold and benchmark details has been ratified by Council’ and

Further all future non-farm fill site applications on ALR land will be subject to these approval thresholds and benchmarks.

Councilor Fox here you go again – WRONG, WRONG, WRONG! 2nd whereas – This was not downloaded by the ALC onto the Township, it has always been the responsibility of the Municipality despite Council’s repeated attempts to abdicate their responsibility. 3rd whereas – Well after discovering what we did about their advice about responsibility of soil deposits, me thinks the Township should seek a second opinion. 4th – Establishing so-called approval thresholds and benchmarks speaks to how out of touch Councillor Fox is and how far Council is willing to go.

Once again, why make things easy and beneficial to residents in the Township when we can throw more mud on the wall to confuse the masses?  

The Township of Langley held a December 3rd 2012 CPC (Council Priority Committee) Meeting devoted entirely to the Soil Deposit Issue. A two hour meeting with delegations representing the community, the Ministry of Agriculture, the development community and Township Legal Counsel. I have to tell you that I am in possession of a written transcript of this meeting and there are more questions than answers.

Your Mayor – When your Mayor comes out with the comment “tougher rules create less compliance” you just have to shake your head. That comment will go down in history with his on the record comment that he “doesn’t govern by petitions” and he “doesn’t respond to numbers at a Public Hearing”. He wants to consider that all of those that didn’t come out to the meeting obviously approve, has to be the most inane thought process yet by any Mayor of record, at least publicly!

So here we are on April 2nd, 2013 and we don’t have a by-law passed (there is one going through the process but it’s content is of serious concern and is seriously being questioned). Three years since we uncovered the truth and we are no further ahead in looking to protect rural residents. Remember 80% of our land base is in the ALR.

The reality is, soil deposit by-laws which are much stronger from surrounding Cities and Municipalities were ignored. Instead we have gone through a seemingly endless number of meetings eating hundreds of hours of staff and legal counsel time to achieve what?

Here is a thought for you – Given the rules that existed in the Township of Langley prior to us getting in the way, making that 2005 letter public and interrupting their way of doing business, are we seeing a new convoluted way of doing business. Is this Option B? This is looking like an extension of the policies this Council is starting to be known for in all aspects of government. Transparency is not high on their list!

I have to close with a very succinct comment from a very good friend. This is an individual who is a very good operator in the Soil Deposit business in another Metro Vancouver City. After reading the transcript of the CPC meeting he states

“Wow, to say that I am surprised would ignore everything that I know about the Township. This is more of the same shit that has gone on for years, hide the real issue behind a fake meeting that is seeking fake solutions to fake problems that will generate real profits for a chosen few.” This is a great example of why I won’t move back to the Township of Langley!

I find this comment sad but understandable. This friend sold his property in the Township about a year ago. You know – We don’t have to put up with it! Lets say enough is enough!!

RG!

I am working a few posts of interest however the next post will contain some Provincial Government election musings in the countdown to May 14th, 2013!

 

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

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Comments
  1. gadfly says:

    As to the third paragraph: If the CAO of any corporation in the private sector would have sent any type of memo to some directors and not to all the others, that would obviously have been called inappropriate (once exposed) and would likely have been struck down as “null and void” with serious repercussions to the individual CAO. The question needs to be asked: If this is true, why did this not happen in the ToL?
    .

    • I can tell you with certainty if this happened in the private sector there would be people looking for a new job. Unfortunately the majority of council are in tight and thick with senior staff, no questions produces no answers.

  2. Lucy says:

    My experience with TOL council is they do seem to let staff make the decisions on what regulations and bylaws to enforce. The mountain of illegal fill, a few metres away from my house, was never removed. It appears, staff does get to pick and choose what they want to follow. It seems, TOL staff are protecting soil deposits even when the sites are extremely, illegally, overfilled. The adjacent properties are not being protected from damages and negative impacts. The TOL just give out fines after the fact, and allow the sites to retain excess fill, which is wrong. This means the TOL is getting additional financial benefits from illegal activities. Staff should protecting residents from this type of activity, not taking an extra piece of the dirt farming profits. I support farmers truly improving areas for agriculture, but in all cases, adjacent properties should not be negatively impacted.

    • There is absolutely no question that this Council have abdicated their responsibility to staff in virtually every corner of this Municipality. There is no oversight, no pro-active measures to improve residents and taxpayers quality of life. Everything is reactive and even with that a concerted effort to sweep it under the rug. They are a collective embarrassement (except Councilor Davis) to the Township of Langley. Staff have been, are and will be in charge as long as we have this Council in place. RG

  3. Thomas Loo says:

    Hi Rick,
    I just stumbled across your blog and found it a very interesting read! I was with the ALC from Sept. 2007 – Aug 2013 as one of their Compliance Officers. After reading your blog and getting an inside view on what was happening at TOL, it now makes a lot of sense! I remember that fiasco with council and the fill permits.

    I had only wished that I would have had some communications with you while you were still in office, so maybe I could have cleared things up quicker!!

    I just wanted to leave a bit of a comment and some thoughts on the fill issue.

    Firstly – when I was with the ALC, we considered the importation of fill as basically a non-farm use. In general, the agency doesn’t “support” the wholesale filling of ALR. Generally thought of as importing earth materials (mostly unsuitable material) for the purposes of no other reason than that of disposal of the excavated materials. It is hard to make these general statements because the world of enforcement is not always so black in white. Nor am I making any statement on anything that might have received approval from the Commission.

    When I received information that a landowner needed to import soil, we would have to do a case by case analysis because there are certain projects where the landowner (I call them landowners, because that’s what most are, whether or not they actually farmed) can bring in earth.

    Typically projects like preload, grading for a new residence (flood proofing requirement), driveways or “storage pads” or other accessory / farm buildings are permitted by regulations. As staff, if we made that assessment, then I would issue an email to TOL staff to advise them that the proposal was consistent with ALC regulations and TOL cold issue a permit.

    On projects where the landowner decided they “needed” to create a huge level area because they wanted to connect the two high points on their property, I would assess as requiring ALC approval via the non-farm use application.

    We were always trying to keep a balance of bureaucracy so as not to impact legitimate agriculture. Although, to be frank, I don’t think there are many real farms than need “fill”. In the past I think we might have made some loose interpretations in order to accommodate working farms that needed fill for a reason that was “outside of the regulations”, ie – a farm that needed to fill a “small depression”. In theory, if a working farm needed 100 loads or so to place into a depression to bring up that area to the same base elevation, who really cares? Provided the material was decent, either a topsoil or even sand for creating some pore space for drainage.

    Of course I’m not talking about the fill projects that went through the application process, got approval and then either not monitored adequately, or the terms & conditions were not rigorously enforced – by either the ALC or TOL. On those ones that I though had merits to being candidates for the court action were not supported by ALC management. To me it seemed pretty easy, ALC says you can bring in volume X, the closure report says “overfilled by X”, take enforcement action.

    Granted the resourcing was never adequate, so I always tried to sell the idea we take on the “worst” offenders and work with the TOL and potentially cost share the legal and enforce both the bylaw and the ALC approval. Unfortunately, that didn’t go anywhere either.

    Prior to my departure, it seemed the TOL created some new policy where by the applicant needed to get a large percentage of people to support the fill proposal, else the council would definitely not support the project and forward it to the ALC. I think that policy is crazy. I know the intent , but in reality, there is the possibility that a working farm really wanted to do the right thing, with a professional to monitor etc.. would not get that approval or support from the community. On top of that, it appeared that TOL was referring the clients straight to the ALC to get a “creative interpretation” of the regulations to consider it a “farm use”, thereby getting around the new policy / requirements.

    I don’t think things should be that difficult. It should be simple.

    Landowner needs soil, makes application for soil with TOL. TOL staff collect the information and forward to the ALC staff for a review. Without stretching the regs, if the soil is required for house, farm building, driveway and a building permit has been issued and the filling isn’t over a large area, then ALC staff says “consistent with regs, go ahead and issue the permit”, TOL can issue the permit and if overfilling takes place, or fill placed outside of area, then enforcement action taken.

    If the landowner needs soil for “raising an area”, then it’s a formal application. “Land raising” is something that should require the scrutiny of the Commission board.

    It’s not a simple subject. The bottom line is the resourcing required to deal with this issue, both by the ALC and any local government is not there. The liberals don’t seem to be on board with real support. There are lots of creative solutions where a heavier stance could be taken without incurring more expense, provided the province and the local government works together, but most of it seems to fall on deaf ears.

    Sorry for the tome! I enjoyed your blog very much and it’s good to see that there are people like you out there. I does give me hope.

    Thomas

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