MLAs hearing from constituents on ALR review

Two public meetings on boundary review this week in Wasa and Jaffray

As most rural residents of RDEK Areas B and E are aware, there are public meetings this week to discuss an Agricultural Land Commission boundary review.

Some landowners have received letters stating that their land will be removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve, others have not.

Both MLAs in the affected areas, Norm Macdonald for Columbia River Revelstoke, where Area E changes are taking place, and Bill Bennett for Kootenay East, where Area B changes are happening, say they have been hearing from constituents who have concerns.

“I will have a staff member at the meeting in Wasa this week,” Macdonald said. “We want to make sure we fully understand all sides. We’ve heard people are unhappy and we will work with local government and individuals in understanding all the issues.”

Something like a boundary review is a process, Macdonald says, and there is time.

“This is where the system has to have integrity. People have to feel like they have been heard.”

Bennett is also hearing concerns, so much so that he has had a conversation with the Minister of Agriculture.

“I spoke with the Agriculture Minister this past week about the concerns in the East Kootenay that land within the ALR is being arbitrarily removed without the land owner having any say,” Bennett said. “He is looking into it. This is happening in my riding as well and I have heard from constituents who do not want their land taken out of the ALR. Of course there are also constituents who want land removed. It is not a simple issue. It all started, as I have said for my 15 years as an MLA, with the NDP government in the 1970’s arbitrarily placing huge amounts of private land into the Reserve without doing the necessary ground work to determine what land actually deserved to be protected for agriculture. Lloyd Sharpe was Chair of the RDEK when this happened. He was the first person to ever tell me the story of how arbitrary and unscientific the creation of the ALR was in the East Kootenay.

“Anyhow, because of that irresponsible approach 40 years ago, we have a controversy on our hands today. Those with land inside the Reserve have gotten used to the tax break and unless they want to do something with their land (non conforming use or subdivision), they quite understandably want their land left inside. As I say, a mess created 40 years ago and difficult to unwind to everyone’s satisfaction. But I have asked the minister to look at whether there is anything that the Commission could do to be more responsive to the people here.”

Macdonald says blaming today on the NDP 40 years ago is a bit of a stretch.

As for the taxation issue, Bob Johnstone of the Meadowbrook Community Association says it really is something people should be considering.

Johnstone says he has been doing some research on the upcoming boundary review.

“I’m not sure people understand that school taxes will double if your property is pulled out of the ALR. There was a 50 per cent exemption granted when properties were put in and as soon as your property is pulled out, the exemption will no longer apply.”

Johnstone says that amount could be $600 or more per year.

“There are a lot of people on a fixed income and I hope they understand this,” he said.

He himself owns five acres in Meadowbrook and has received a letter saying his property will be coming out.

“I’ve got five acres and can’t subdivide. People will have fewer restrictions, but where is the advantage of pulling a property out? It’s a pretty poor deal in my mind.”