Category Archives: Farmland

Finn Slough residents fight to keep homes that were never theirs

Finn Slough, Whitworth Island and the Fraser River
Finn Slough, Whitworth Island and the Fraser River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a late-autumn evening and Gus Jacobson maneuvers his pickup truck down Dyke Road, a single lane access, past the net lofts and fishing shacks of the Village of Finn Slough.

Once the road ends just above the swirling eddies where the Fraser River meets the Pacific Ocean, he’ll  loop around and follow the track back along Finn Slough where he’ll pull his pickup close to his shed and unload two tubs of salmon to sell the next day.

But tonight, a gleaming BMW idles in the dead end. Jacobson leans on the horn, and the driver responds with a middle finger. Jacobson eases his 78-year old frame out of his truck, and gripping a metal wrench to appear menacing, ambles toward the car.

The BMW jolts into motion, tires and gravel spinning. Then 30 feet away, it yanks to a stop. The driver opens his door, tosses out fast food wrappers, and yells profanity, including a word that riles Jacobson, “squatters.”

“We’re not squatters,” Jacobson hollers . “My grandfather was here in 1892, and we’re not going away.”

But, this is far from certain. Even if the ownership of Finn Slough is settled, it may be too late.

If BC Premier Christy Clark goes ahead with building a $3.5 billion, 10-lane, high-altitude bridge to replace an aging tunnel east of Finn Slough, the historic site and its inhabitants, and the surrounding farmland, river estuaries and their wildlife, will be put at risk.

welcome-to-finn-slough“This is the last fishing village in all of Metro Vancouver and one of the last in BC,” said Finn Slough historian David Dorrington, who lives at the slough “If it goes, we’ll have lost an irreplaceable piece of our history.”

Finn slough is a 100-yard estuary that rises and falls with the tides parallel to the Fraser River.

The north bank of the slough runs along the City of Richmond’s dikes which were built to protect farmland from floods.

The south bank is on Whitworth Island (also called Gilmour Island) which hugs the Fraser River and is reached by a foot bridge originally built in 1907.

As well as net sheds and fishing huts, tiny wooden homes perched on stilts or logs above the high tide mark dot the slough’s banks. The slough’s population of 25 lives here.

Jacobson, a burly, somber, 78-year old, is widely considered one of Finn Slough’s elder statesmen. He grew up here, playing in the tidal marshes and mud flats, learning to fish and make a living on the river.

Jacobson’s grandfather and other Finnish settlers immigrated to Canada in the 1890s to work in the booming fishing industry in fishing industry in Steveston, a village west along the Fraser River in Richmond, a city 20 miles south of Vancouver.

They bought acreages near the Fraser River to farm, and they built modest farm houses.

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Finn Slough, low tide

They also began tying up their fishing boats at a small, tidal estuary nearby.

To protect their boats and provide cover when mending nets, the Finns built shelters on stilts and log booms. Some built decks and small living quarters. The area became known as Finn Slough.

When they weren’t fishing, the Finns planted orchards, berry and vegetable fields, and raised families.

For generations, they docked their fishing boats at Finn Slough, mending their nets, repairing their shacks and staying overnight during salmon runs.

They heated with propane or wood. In the 1930s, the City of Richmond connected them to water. In the 1940s, electricity came.

Life continued peacefully for a century until 1993, when an Ontario developer, Steven Smith of Smith Prestige Properties, appeared with documents showing he had bought the title to Whitworth Island.

Finn Slough, high tide
Finn Slough, high tide

Smith aimed to submit plans to the City of Richmond to develop condominium towers and a marina on Finn Slough, according to Dorrington.

“He claimed we were squatters and he planned to evict us,” said Dorrington.

“We had to hire a lawyer which we couldn’t afford.”

To help fund the fight against eviction, the Finn Slough Heritage and Wetland Society was formed. Word spread that the unique community of ramshackle buildings and old boats was at risk of being destroyed.

Photographers, painters, historians, Sunday drivers and the media began turning up.

Suddenly Finn Slough was a destination, a haven of tranquility, hidden away at the edge of farmland. Although just a mile from a freeway and a major shopping mall, it felt like the back of the beyond.

Visitors were enchanted by the sense of connectivity to the past and the sight of history unfolding in front of them.

They eagerly watched the daily life of a working fishing village. This included the feats of Jacobson and his friend, Ray Galawan. The pair would take to the Fraser River in a dinghy to hook logs that had broken away from a boom and floated downstream for anyone to claim.

Like a ballet in slow motion, the men, muscled and fast, would hook a log as it swept past.

They would ride the current to help guide the slippery behemoth into Finn Slough. Then, with brute strength and using a system of pulleys only they understood, they would hang the log to dry alongside a shed.

Later, they would split and chop the log into firewood to use for heat or sell for cash.

Ray Galawan and Gus Jacobson on the 1930s Eva, built for Jacobson's father, Tom
Ray Galawan and Gus Jacobson on the 1930s Eva, built for Jacobson’s father, Tom

Despite widespread support for Finn Slough, the struggle with Steven Smith continued. He said everyone on Whitworth Island was squatting.

“We disagreed. We believed we were on Crown land during most of the year, and during king tides, when homes and boat sheds are surrounded by water, we’re technically not on any land,” said Dorrington.

Smith said they had no right to be there.

“If we weren’t supposed to be here, why does Richmond provide us with water and garbage collection for a fee and also accept our annual donation in lieu of taxes?” asked Dorrington.

The fight dragged on and Smith got the federal port authority involved.

Finn Slough representatives asked the port authority to grant them a lease. But this was more complicated than expected.

As Dorrington explains, under riparian law, a landowner such as Smith has the right of access to their property. If a structure blocks the way, the landowner can ask for its removal.

The port authority refused to give the village a lease without Smith’s permission, even though Finn Slough  predates the port authority.

“It was as though the Finnish history here didn’t exist,” said Dorrington.

In 2000, residents attended a City of Richmond meeting to try to resolve land tenure issues. Here, the jurisdictional levels were clarified.

City representatives explained that the highest level of government, the federal government through Port Metro Vancouver (PMV), controls land between the Fraser River’s (and its estuaries and sloughs) high and low water marks.

The provincial government controls and owns foreshore land. This meant Finn Slough is on Crown land.

The province also controls the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), which protects five per cent of land in British Columbia for farming. Whitworth Island is in the ALR and condominiums and marinas are not a permitted use.

Whitworth Island is also in the City of Richmond’s Environmentally Sensitive Areas Plan, which prohibits development that would cause habitat loss and damage to fish and wildlife.

At the city meeting, Finn Slough villagers said since they were being called squatters, they were claiming squatters rights and could prove they had an association with the area going back to 1900.

They also asked if they could lease the dike under from the City of Richmond. The City referred them back to the port authority, which tabled the file.

Steven Smith gave up and went back to Ontario. Donations helped pay the Finn Slough’s $100,000 legal bill.

The villagers returned to their quiet, environmentally sustainable lifestyles, recycling, using composting toilets, and making their living off what the river brought them or on nearby farms or as artists or part-time care-givers or carpenter’s assistants.

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Gus Jacobson, December 12, 2016

The village was largely forgotten until the Premier’s announcement of the new bridge, the largest in the province’s history.

ray-gallawan
Ray Gallawan in his shed

Initially, the Premier claimed she had unilaterally decided to build the bridge to solve traffic problems caused by the aging George Massey Tunnel, which funnels commuters under the Fraser River heading north to Vancouver, and traffic south to and from the Canada – U.S. border crossing.

“Congestion at the tunnel is frustrating for families and stalling the economy,” the Premier said.

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, who learned about the bridge from a provincial government news release, disagreed.

“A more environmentally friendly option is to twin the tunnel,” Mayor Brodie said. “What the bridge is really about is the expansion of Port Metro Vancouver.”

With the tunnel gone, the Fraser River could be dredged. This would open up the river for deep-draft Panamax tankers to get upstream to the Fraser Surrey Docks.

At the docks, the tankers would pick up dilbit, a mixture of oil and petroleum, transported from the Alberta tar sands by Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain Pipeline as well as coal and then head out to Asia, where PMV annually trades $200 billion in goods with more than 170 countries.

PMV has been preparing for this expansion for years. In 2009, it secretly began buying farmland in the ALR near the Fraser River to use as a land bank for future industrial use related to shipping.

“This is Richmond’s most productive farmland but the Port can rezone it into industrial land without consulting the City of Richmond or local residents,” said Richmond City councillor and agrologist, Harold Steves who helped establish the ALR in 1973.

The Fraser River is also the world’s largest salmon-producing river and its estuaries, including the Finn Slough,  provide habitat to migratory birds, seals and sea lions.

Yet the federal government has dismantled the Fraser River Estuary Management program, a federal government agency founded in 1985 to protect and improve the environment of the Fraser River wetlands.

Its responsibilities have been turned over to PMV, whose board of directors is chosen by industry groups and then appointed by the federal government.

This is a conflict of interest according to Steves, who, along with Mayor Brodie opposes the building of the bridge, which will include a 28-lane, three-level interchange.

The community is concerned about noise and light pollution from the bridge and also pollution from tankers more than 1,000 feet long and 100 feet wide carrying toxic materials.

“Just one small spill would have serious implications,” said Steves.

Once again, the villagers of Finn Slough don’t have a say even though their lives could be turned upside down by the development.

“Thus has the potential to destroy the slough,” said Jacobson.

For the most part, the community is keeping quiet, trying to stay off the radar of PMV, which considers them squatters.

“Commerce is the port authority’s priority,” said Mayor Brodie, a supporter of saving farmland and the natural environment. Under his leadership, the City began referring to Finn Slough as a Heritage Area. This doesn’t confer any official status since PMV is a higher level of government.

Three’s at least one person willing to fight for official heritage status.

On a recent chilly evening, Gus Jacobson fired up his truck to head to his job as a part-time night watchman for the Steveston Harbour Authority. After a lifetime of working, he’s too poor to retire.

He’s also not backing down from the epic struggle to save Finn Slough.

“I’m going to apply to UNESCO to get world heritage status for Finn Slough. It costs $10,000 to apply and I think I can raise it,” Jacobson said.

old-fishboat

Litter in paradise. Who throws garbage on farmland?

Bridger Garden
Steve Bridger’s garden, by Woodward’s Slough

Steve Bridger doesn’t have enough fingers to count the number of times he’s had litter thrown on his award-winning garden in the last month.

Yesterday, as he tells it, a gleaming BMW stopped at the side of the road, a passenger opened a door and tossed out fast food wrappers.

“They didn’t see me pruning. When I hollered at them, they sped off in a spray of gravel, leaving me to clean up their mess,” he said.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, pedestrians, joggers, cyclists, and visitors in vehicles admire and photograph Bridger’s peaceful plot, set on farmland on the winding, rural, Finn Road. The garden surrounds his 1912 cottage, spilling across the road alongside Woodward’s Slough in an agricultural  area of Richmond, a city 20 miles south of Vancouver.

Adrienne Moore, a local painter, has set up her easel. “What is that divine fragrance?” she asks, walking past beds of asters, hollyhocks, lilies, gardenias, honeysuckle, roses, and sweet William. “Oh, it’s the lavender,” Moore decides.

Bridger maneuvers his rake around clusters of violet lupines, unearthing soda cup lids and a child’s sock, mumbling about how he raked this last week, then using a gloved hand, wages war on cigarette butts permeating periwinkle ground cover.

In the three decades he has tended his garden, he’s seen littering escalate. When he first bought the place and started creating the beds, he’d pick up beer bottles and cans on Sunday mornings. “That was about it,” he said.

Over the years, candy bar wrappers and chip bags appeared. When a suburban mall was built a mile away, swathes of cardboard coffee cups and fast food containers materialized.

As fees at the local landfill have risen, so has dumping.

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Litter 2DSC_1952

“We’ve seen couches, tables, chairs, televisions, mattresses and drywall dumped,” said Graham Price, a neighbor, pointing to the Woodward Slough, a much-needed habitat for frogs, bats, river otters and herons. “Anything that can be thrown out of a car or unloaded from a truck ends up here.”

Litter Couch and chair 1024x682Bridger recently heard a car door slam on a quiet afternoon and looked out to see a woman hauling an old computer monitor and processor out of her trunk and dumping it in his flowerbed. He stormed outside and told the woman to take it away.

“She had the gall to tell me it was a gift,” he said. “I had to threaten to phone the police before she would drag it back to her car. I know she offloaded it down the road,” said Bridger.

Price says he’s seen drivers of expensive vehicles with children in baby seats throw garbage out of their windows.

Steve Bridger (right) picks up littler

Steve Bridger (right) picks with garbage

“I’ve seen couples stop, get out and casually unload garbage bags with styrofoam beside the road and then accelerate away,” said Price.

The neighbors agree fines are the solution. “We need to take photos of license plates and email them to Richmond’s by-law enforcement department. Then the City has to issue tickets so that litterers don’t come back here and ruin paradise,” said Bridger.

 

 

Against the odds. Small scale farming in Richmond

Kareno Hawbolt and Kimi Hendress at Sweet Digz Farm
Kareno Hawbolt and Kimi Hendess at Sweet Digz Farm

On this autumn Saturday morning, while a hard wind howls off the Fraser River bringing stinging gusts of rain, there’s a festive feel in a lineup of about two dozen foodies, holding onto umbrellas at the edge of a small shopping plaza.

The draw is organically grown produce offered just once a week for sale at the Sweet Digz Farm stand.

“Our goal is to provide customers with healthy produce” says Kareno Hawbolt, who has farmed for more than a decade. With her life and business partner, Kimi Hendess, Hawbolt owns Sweet Digz Farm.

“Technically, we aren’t certified organic, but we plan to start the process,” said Hawbolt.

In the meantime, Hawbolt and Hendess follow organic farming principals and use farming methods that are sustainable and harmonious with the environment and optimize the agro-ecosystem. They don’t use chemicals of any type.

Their four-acre farm is on land leased from a wealthy landowner, a stone’s throw from their farm stand.

kale-and-lettuce
Kale and lettuce

 

Here, in the growing season from March to October, the couple labor in greenhouses and fields up to 16 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We grow 50 vegetable crops including beans, cabbages, corn, cucumbers, kale, leeks, lettuce, onions, parsnips, potatoes, squash, tomatillos, tomatoes and zucchini,” said Hawbolt.

It’s backbreaking work. The couple doesn’t use leading-edge technology. They don’t own a tractor, produce sorter or cultivator. The costs would wipe out profits.

Instead, the only mechanized equipment are two small gas-powered rototillers and a utility pick-up truck. Most of the work is done by hand.

It’s why customers have an almost religious fervor about supporting them. If Sweet Digz closed, there are just a handful of local farms growing produce, and no-one else delivers.

“Each week from May-September, we harvest vegetables, pack them into boxes, and deliver them to about 90 customers who have prepaid for the season,” says Hawbolt. “They get what’s fresh from the field, which varies each week.”

peppers
Peppers growing in the greenhouse

Friday’s the couple pick and sort vegetables into boxes and bins, which they take to their Saturday farm stand to sell to about 100 regular customers.

Sweet Digz Farm is in the City of Richmond’s South Slough District, one of the few remaining large tracts of agricultural land, 20 miles south of Vancouver.

The district covers six square miles, running east from No. 2 Road to No. 5 Road and south from Steveston Highway to the Fraser River.

“Private farmland here is technically protected,” said Hawbolt.

pumkins-ready-sorted-and-ready-to-go
Pumpkins sorted

It’s in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), created in 1973 through the Agricultural Land Commission Act. Five per cent of British Columbia’s most productive farmland is in this land bank.

But this doesn’t mean it’s farmed. Part of the problem is jurisdictional.

Although 39% of Richmond’s land is in the ALR, and Richmond’s Official Community Plan protects farmland because of a supportive mayor and council, the ALR falls under the provincial government, a higher level of government.

Since 1973, the province has expanded permitted uses on protected farmland. Bed and breakfasts, churches, commercial nurseries, golf courses, gravel pits, horse stables, kennels, private schools, soil fill operations, storage facilities, timber production and wineries are allowed.

The province has taken farmland for highways and plans to build a controversial $3.5 billion 10-lane bridge on farmland to replace an aging tunnel, a project Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie says is unnecessary.

At the same time, the Federal government has bought farmland as a land bank for industrial development for Port Metro Vancouver, angering Mayor Brodie and local farmers.

Land speculators and property developers have also bought farmland, driving up prices.

sand-poured-for-a-future-mansion
Sand for future mansion poured on fertile farmland

Some build mansions and lease the rest to tenant farmers like Hawbolt and Hendess, which allows owners to claim farm status and pay less property taxes.

Developers regularly try to get farmland removed from the ALR. While this process is lengthy, if land is removed, owners can make a windfall developing the land into residential subdivisions.

Which leads to another part of the problem: population pressures. In the last 30 years Metro Vancouver’s population has spiked to 2.5 million from 1.5 million.

Richmond has urbanized, adding 40,000 newcomers, bringing its population to 214,500 residents.

As farmland is converted into homes and industry, there are far fewer farms.

In 1961, Richmond had 483 farms. By 1996, there were 350 farms. By 2011, the number shrank to 295 farms. Now, there are just 199 farms.

Of these, 102 farms are owned by sole proprietors, 62 are family farms and 35 are partnership farms, one of which is Sweet Digz.

Richmond’s farms employed 1,275 workers a decade ago. Now there are 680 workers, according to Statistics Canada.

“Those who are self-employed or work for farmers, may have second jobs, pushed by rising costs and low profits,” said Helmut Pastrick, chief economist for the Canadian credit union system, and a regular Sweet Digz customer.

This is true for Hendess and Hawbolt, who put their university degrees and other skills to use in winter months.

“To supplement farm income, we’ve taught at Kwantlen Polytechnic’s Farm School, and I’ve even worked as a nanny, said Hawbolt. Hendess is a certified carpenter and takes on projects during the winter.

The implications of fewer farms are serious.

 

Although the province has high capacity farmland, it produces only 45 per cent of its food, according to Dr. Lenore Newman, Canada Research Chair in Food Security and Environment, and a University of the Fraser Valley professor.

“The world market is giving strong signals we are entering a period of dire food shortages,” said Newman.

Pastrick agrees.

“The drought in California and low Canadian dollar mean we can’t rely on importing vegetables from California. Sweet Digz fills an increasing need, especially for low-income neighbours.”

How long can they hang on?

“Land security is our biggest concern. There’s no guarantee our lease will be renewed or the land won’t be rezoned,” said Hawbolt. “We can’t afford to buy since farmland sells for more $500,000 an acre. We take it day by day.”

In the meantime, Hendess and Hawbolt are philosophically committed to taking care of their fertile farmland, although the odds are stacked against them.

Their customers are grateful for the delicious food. As they become more knowledgeable they’re telling the government, “hands off farmland.”

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Fresh from the Sweet Digz farm stand

Finn Slough late October

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Here, in my neighborhood, the south slough area of Richmond, alongside estuaries and bogs are small fertile farms with class 1 and 2 soil.

Local farmers grow a range of crops, and, at this time of year, the easiest crop to sell is  pumpkins. There are fields and fields of them.

IMG_0531Farmers go all out to attract residents from nearby subdivisions and from Vancouver, 20 minutes north, to farm stands.

 

IMG_0528It’s a pleasant place to live. In the early morning, we hear the gentle hum of tractors, and although the yellow leaves are falling fast, there are still a few bees buzzing as they pollinate autumn crops.

Industrial land encroaches on farmland

Potatoe field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Industry would love to build on Bill McKinney’s long, straight rows of potatoes. They’d they’d love to build on Bob Wright’s zucchini patch and they’d love to build on Maria De Putter’s horse field.What’s standing in their way? The Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

The ALR was created through legislation in 1973 to protect valuable farmland, about five per cent of British Columbia’s land base.

Although ALR land in Metro Vancouver is, for the most part, Class 1 and 2 with the highest capacity for growing food, it’s seen as a land bank for development. Developers are continually coming up with ways to have land removed and they’re often successful.

In the last 20 years, in the South Slough area of Richmond, we’ve seen the most fertile farmland in the province removed for 1960s style sprawling one and two-story shopping malls, factories, warehouses and office buildings.

Now industry claims Metro Vancouver faces a serious shortage of vacant industrial land.

A forecast and analysis released by the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks (NAOIP) Vancouver chapter and a recent speech by Robin Silvester, CEO of Port Metro Vancouver, confirms the worst: within 11 years, Metro Vancouver will run out of industrial land.

“In our view, the (NAIOP) report identifies a critical need for additional industrial, jobs-producing lands in Metro Vancouver,” said Chris MacCauley, a NAIOP Vancouver board member and vice-president, Industrial Properties at CBRE Canada.

“We have been sounding the alarm on this very serious issue for over two years now,” said Silvester.

For Metro Vancouver, this means a loss of jobs and opportunities because large companies unable to find industrial land head for Calgary and Seattle, according to NAIOP.

Their solution is to remove more land from the ALR.

Given that agriculture is also an industry, is this necessary?

“There’s no question, we’re running out of undeveloped industrial land,” said Helmut Pastrick, Central 1 Credit Union chief economist. “But there are far better, more efficient options than using ALR Land.”

Drive or cycle around industrial parks such as Ironwood in the South Slough area, and you’ll see that about fifty per cent of the buildings are for sale or lease.

“This already developed industrial land could be used much more efficiently,” Pastrick said.

Michael Goldberg, retired dean of the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business, agrees.

“Half a dozen years ago, Vancouver feared downtown condo development would lead to a shortage of  office space,” said Goldberg.

“The City of Vancouver banned condos from the core in favour of office space and most importantly significantly raised allowable densities.”

The result was a major increase in supply.

“As industrial land prices continue to increase through diminishing supply and rising demand, at some point, we will have to move to multi-storey industrial buildings to offset the high land costs,” said Goldberg.

“Fortunately, most industrial zones already permit higher density so this transition should be far easier and smoother than has been the case for residential densification,” Goldberg said.

Space for industrial activities can be significantly increased through densification while leaving farmland for its highest and best use.

De Putter farm
The De Putter farm. Note: a Government Agency recently put a weather station on part of the horse field, chipping away at farmland.

A quick look at what’s for lease and for sale in a small industrial area in Richmond.

for lease 32For lease 30For lease 29For lease 28For lease 26For lease 24For lease 23For lease 22For lease 20for lease 12for lease 11for lease 13for lease 10for lease 9for lease 8for lease 7for lease 6for lease 5for lease 4For lease 2For lease 1

Spring in full swing south of Steveston Highway

Spring is in full swing south of Steveston Highway in Agricultural Land Reserve land.

This is one of Richmond’s oldest Transparent apple trees. David Dorrington, the area’s historian, thinks it dates back to the turn of the century.

Heritage Transparant apple tree in bloom

 

The area’s blueberries are also blossoming.

Blueberries in blossom

Fields are disked, soon to be ploughed and then seeded.

Berg's Shell Road Farm

 

Some hobby farmers with small plots of land, till the soil by hand.

corn field preparation

 

 

The City listens

J.S. Nature Farms. The owner has been farming for 50+ years
J.S. Nature farms. The owner has been farming for 50+ years

Hunters are members of the local Rod and Gun Club. The Club wrote to the City about the problems hunters had getting permission from owners given that “many land owners in Richmond live overseas.” (See 4(ii))

Surprisingly members of the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Committee  moved and seconded  “That staff examine the regulations surrounding hunting on farmland and the necessary requirements for licensed hunters to continue hunting and report back.”

Neighbours quickly passed around this information, and wrote letters about how easy it is to use Land Titles information to confirm that  property owners are local.

“We’re here, not overseas,” became the rallying call.

Property owners wrote to the city about their property rights being violated by hunters.

Helmut Pastrick in his orchard (Cherry tree)
Helmut Pastrick in his orchard

“This is a property rights issue and owners of farmland should have the right to determine who is on their property,” said Helmut Pastrick, a hobby farmer,  “If someone gets hurt of worse, we’re the ones who will be sued.”

Neighbours emailed Council members asking them to come and talk to local owners before making any decisions.

Councillor Derek Dang who grew up on farmland agreed with local residents and became an advocate.

At its June 2014 meeting, the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Committee released its findings, noting “the overall principles and actions of the Firearms Regulation Bylaw 4183 are sound and should be maintained in their present form.”

Horses on Finn Road
Horses on Finn Road. If a hunter disturbs a horse of this size, the rider could lose control

Sounds of gunfire ceased, until last Sunday, when a recreational hunter was back.

Now we’re on the lookout and will be phoning City Bylaws and the RCMP to enforce the bylaw and charge the hunters under the section 39 of the Wildlife Act.

Winter crops grown for the holiday spirit

Season overSome farmers in the South Slough area are slowing down at this time year.

The Chong’s closed their farm stand on Steveston Highway last weekend.

Brussel Sprouts (red outhouse)apples

Hoegler’s Richmond Country Farms is open selling limited produce local produce including local Brussels’ sprouts, apples, carrots and potatoes. They’ll close December 23.

HM Christmas TreesH & M Farms at the corner of Steveston Highway and Gilbert Road opened their Christmas tree stand, celebrating 40 years of growing and selling Christmas trees. They also have ready-made wreaths from cedar boughs.

This afternoon it was quiet at their stand, with just two customers.

Art Knapp’s stand of Christmas tree sales was also quiet.

Father Christmas at Tree Farm

To attract customers away from the convenience of supermarket Christmas tree sales, the farmers go all out to make tree sales a holiday memory for families. Some tree stands on farms have beautiful heritage lights, statues of father Christmas, cocoa and soft carols playing.

During the next three weeks I hope Vancouver residents heading to Steveston for a riverside lunch or commuters heading home to nearby subdivisions stop and buy farm trees. Farming is such for a weekend hard work and farmers depend on local.

M

Wreaths

Hunters back in the fields

Hunting
Look closely and you will see the hunter is hiding the rifle at his side
Hunter done with snipping tool
Close up

Last week while cycling, at the end of the Finn where it dead ends at No. 3 Road, I saw a male with a rifle. Beside him was a child.

I stopped to take a photo and they saw me, and the adult tried to hide the rifle at his side.

I asked what they were doing and they told me they were hunting ducks. “It’s legal on farmland,” they said.

I told them it is legal only if the hunter has the written permission of the property owner (see section 9), $1 million in liability insurance and stays 180 metres from roads and dykes according to the Regulating the Discharge of Firearms Bylaw.

They disagreed and said what they were doing was legal. I told them they were violating section 39 of the Wildlife Act.  They disagreed.

I didn’t want to argue with someone with a weapon so I gave up.  Cars were driving down No. 3 Road a stone’s throw away and there were joggers and cyclists. I decided to let someone else complain.

Two years along with our neighbours, we spent a lot of time complaining about illegal hunters to the RCMP and the City of Richmond Bylaws department.

All along Finn Road and No. 4 Road we were all repeatedly bothered by hunters who did not have permission to hunt.

Councillor Harold Steeves in front of farmland owned by Adera DevelopmentsAlmost daily, hunters were seen on the 160-acre Diamond Foundation property leased to tenant farmers and a large acreage then owned by Adera Developments also leased to tenant farmers.

Sometimes as many as four vehicles with three or four hunters apiece would park alongside Finn Road and Garden City Road (to the right hand side) and sneak onto large farms. Property managers confirmed that the owners did not allow hunting due to liability issues.

Neighbours also reported hunters seen along a rail line owned by CN Rail. CN police advised that hunters are not permitted on the rail line or the 50 foot right of way and to phone if we saw hunters.

Illegal hunters hiding in bushes hunting ducks flying overhead is dangerous.

Miles Smart on the way to his potatoe fieldSome tenant farmers have winter crops and are in the fields. There are also farmers travelling slowly on farm vehicles, cyclists, joggers, wheelchair athletes, hobby photographers and recreationalists out for a stroll.

The sound of gun fire all day long also disturbs bees, so important for crop pollination. Bees can be temperamental and colony collapse is increasing. Gun fire is all it takes for a hive to stop thriving.

De Putter BeesGun fire also disturbs bats – so important for insect control – and farm animals such as chickens, cows and horses.  It’s hard to make a living farming, so farmers rent barn stalls to local subdivision residents who keep horses and ride them on the roads.

Owls, hawks and eagles disappear during hunting season and many don’t return.Hawke over farmland

Next week – The City Listens.

Rising water

McKinney Farm Road by cabbages
McKinney Farm, February 2015

Every year for the past decade, our neighbourhood floods in late February and early March.

Endless days of pounding rain, snow melt from further up the Fraser River, high tides and climate change are combining to raise water levels.

Lulu Island is on a floodplain where the Fraser River meets the Pacific Ocean, so we should expect flooding, but every year it seems to slightly worse.

Last year, parts of neighbouring fields were submerged and close to home our blueberry bushes that we grow in raised rows fortified with sawdust, had an inch or two of water. In an area where a long-gone barn once stood there at least six inches of water pooled in the depression.

One Saturday night during a downpour, we had to get our sump pump working and then head to the City of Richmond works yard and shovel sand in small burlap bags to put around the property.

boulders on the dyke
Dikes around Richmond

As the water rose, I couldn’t help thinking about the southern Alberta Flood of 2013 –  the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history.

To help protect us, the City of Richmond has built dikes around the 49-kilometer perimeter of Lulu Island.

It’s also dug 178 kilometers of ditches and canals, laid 622 kilometers of drainage pipes, and built 41 pump stations and countless storm sewers.

Yet, it’s not enough. Richmond now has a population of 210,000, a increase of close to 20,000 in just three years on our small island. There are 71,200 dwellings and many multi-story apartment buildings built of marshy soil supplemented with fill.

To help keep the water draining, the City also has dug 178 kilometers of ditches and canals,  laid 622 kilometers of drainage pipes, and built 41 pump stations and countless storm sewers.

Water box
Pumping water after rain

The dykes help to hold floods, and the drainage infrastructure helps with rainfall, but if there was an earthquake – and scientists predict we’re due for one – the ground would liquify and we’d all be under water.

The City is now part of the Lower Mainland Flood Management Strategy, a collaboration of 25 local governments in the Metro Vancouver region as well as the provincial government and the federal government.

The goal is to work together to:

  1. Better understand flood hazards.
  2. Identify flood vulnerabilities.
  3. Assess current flood infrastructure, management practices and policies.

So far, the group has determined “a major flood in the Lower Mainland is a threat to public health and safety, and could result in billions of dollars in damage to private and public property, loss of infrastructure and community services, disruption of business and trade, degradation of water quality and harmful environmental impacts.”

Not even high tide
Not even high tide

Could it get any more frightening?

In response, in July 2015, the BC Premier appointed a Minister of State for Emergency Preparedness to work with communities that could be impacted by floods to determine risk-mitigation measures.

There is also a new floodplain mapping program, and federal funding for flood mapping. Richmond has a flood protection strategy to 2031 and a dike master plan.

I hope all of this will come in time. It’s raining outside tonight.

 

Map 2
Courtesy of the City of Richmond