Plans by FortisBC to buy land for a new substation in the rural outskirts near Fruitvale, is causing much consternation for people living on properties nearby.
FortisBC is in the process of buying a large piece on Grieve Road in Area A of the regional district, after the company’s proposal to build a new substation near Mazzochi Park in Fruitvale was rejected by residents last year.
Public opposition ceased the previous plan because the proposal within the Village of Fruitvale required a zoning change for FortisBC to proceed.
Not so for this property acquisition in Area A of the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB). Even though the land in Area A is zoned “Rural Residential” or RR1, RDKB bylaws permit utilities in all zones.
All that aside, this property is in an area of natural landscape, rich in biodiversity, serving as a quiet corridor for wildlife.
In response to Fortis’ move to buy the land, the Beaver Valley Concerned Citizens group has penned an open letter to FortisBC and the BC Utilities Commission, pleading the company to not install a substation on farm land or undeveloped forests.
The property, across from ATCO Wood Products just past the municipal boundary of Fruitvale, has historically been used for farming.
“The farm is a 10-acre piece of prime agricultural land, formerly a sheep and chicken farm; the land includes four acres of pristine forest, both a wildlife and habitat corridor,” the group states.
“The farm is known locally as the historic Moller/Lifely property; having passed through three generations. Unfortunately, the farmlands were not protected by the Agriculture Land Commission (ALR),” the group notes. “Local residents believe that this farm should be in the ALR given its history, as well as its potential for ongoing local farm production.”
They assert that several residents expressed interest in the property, one put up an offer; however, the group states that the utilities company outbid them.
Furthermore, the group points to the 2022 South Kootenay Agricultural Strategy commissioned by the regional district, and partly funded by Columbia Basin Trust and the Governments of Canada and British Columbia. The strategy focuses on a community’s farming areas to find practical solutions to challenges and identify opportunities to strengthen the agricultural sector, thereby contributing to the community’s long-term sustainability.
“The intention is to increase and protect agricultural production within the region, thus contributing to long-term environmental, social and economic sustainability,” the group says. “Our anchor point is to work with existing agricultural areas, acreages, and farms, securing their future and supporting their sustainable development.”
The group says they are aware that FortisBC needs to build a new substation, and they acknowledge the need to replace old equipment and increase electrical capacity.
However, the concerned citizens maintain that better options are available.
“A site for a substation must serve us all: FortisBC and the residents of Beaver Valley. Our group is very interested to know all options considered by Fortis, including a matrix showing pros and cons, including full transparency and showing cost comparisons.
“We are advocating for a suitable site in the Beaver Valley, asking FortisBC and the British Columbia Utilities (Commission) to save agricultural lands … ” they state.
“Do not build a substation on the Moller/Lifely farm.”
With respect to development, one of FortisBC’s corporate commitments to communities is to take an active role in developing long-lasting relationships and partnerships, and to be a good neighbour, the concerned citizens add.
“Per the company’s commitment, many local citizens are again (as in 2022) asking FortisBC to reconsider the proposed substation site.”
The company confirmed it is in the process of purchasing 2064 Grieve Road because a new substation must be built to replace the existing Fruitvale and Hearns substations.
“The Fruitvale station has been in service since the 1960s and is on a property that’s too small to accommodate the necessary upgrades,” FortisBC spokesperson Nicole Brown told the Trail Times. “The Hearns substation is also nearing end of life and will be replaced by the new station.”
After the proposal near Mazzochi Park didn’t go through, Brown says the company has since evaluated 19 additional properties including all of the ones that were put forward by community members.
“The sites had significant problems such as they were too far from existing infrastructure, the land was subject to flooding or there were steep slopes that would have made building cost prohibitive,” Brown explained. “The Grieve Road property is larger than needed for the substation and provides a lot of flexibility in terms of how to situate the station.”
She says before planning takes place, the company is meeting with nearby property owners in an effort to accommodate their ideas and suggestions.
“We’ve invited them to a meeting where they can review the maps and site lines, speak to directly to the project planning team and provide their recommendation.”
If anyone would like more information, Brown says to email email@example.com.