Saturday, November 01, 2008

Whistleblowers protecting BC farmland muzzled

BC farmland scientists who blew the whistle on turning Agricultural Land Reserve lands into golf courses and then into housing developments are being muzzled, says agrologist and journalist Wendy Holm in this article from The Tyee.

Last year agrologist Susan Ames, then president of the BC Institute of Agricology, wrote against a proposal to withdraw land from the ALR for redevelopment of the Tsawwassen Golf and Country Club in Delta. She cautioned the Delta council against allowing farmland to be turned into golf courses and then into housing, as it "encourages speculation and puts further pressure on the ALR".

An agrologist working for the developer complained about Ames' letter to the BCIA, resulting in a BCIA conduct and discipline committee investigation and a new ruling requiring agrologists to restrict their opinions to only those sites on which they have directly carried out research.

As The Tyee points out: "the ruling allows the agrologists who offer reports that help land owners and developers remove land from the ALR to do their work without fear of being publicly contradicted by a colleague."

The chair of the BCIA conduct and discipline committee, whose expertise is not in agrology but in "accounting, finance, business management and management land use", told The Tyee, "The dollars on the table are immense."

The dollars are always "immense", sir, as are short-term economic pressures to allow developers to build housing on farmland, precisely the reason why we have the ALR in the first place.

The land reserve makes up 5% of B.C.’s land area. Apologists for removing land from the ALR point to stats showing that the total amount of land in the ALR has remained more or less constant over its 35 year history but fail to mention this is achieved by taking land out of the ALR in the lower mainland and adding some on up north.
According to Holm, "there has been a net loss of 10,000 acres from the ALR in the four regions with the most development pressure: the Island, South Coast, Okanagan and Kootenay".

Related : B.C.'s former solicitor general John Les resigned the Liberal cabinet in March after learning he is under RCMP investigation for allegedly having "improperly benefited" from acquiring land within the ALR and subdividing the land into housing lots which were sold for $85,000 each.
A former Vernon mayor has fingered Les as a "silent partner in a plan to remove the protections around some agricultural land in the area and pave the way for development".

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