Land for proposed gas plant has contentious history

Calgary-based company AltaGas has announced plans to build a $100-million natural gas processing facility on a piece of land just outside of Fort St. John.

While the empty field doesn't look like much, it has a contentious political history — one that once prompted calls for MLA Pat Pimm's resignation.

The land at 8583-259 Road is part of the Agricultural Land Reserve.

In 2013, former owner Terry McLeod applied to the Agricultural Land Commission to remove the land from the reserve to build a rodeo grounds for the city and surrounding areas.

At the time, McLeod argued the new use of the land could still be considered agricultural, even though it wasn't going to be used for farming.

In a 2013 decision, however, the ALC ruled against McLeod’s plan, partly because it found that other land in the area could be used for McLeod’s development.

"The need for the sort of development proposed for Fort St. John should not result in the sacrifice of prime agricultural land when that need is readily capable of being met on lands already identified in a lengthy joint planning by the local government and the commission," the ALC wrote at the time.

McLeod had started construction even when the commission turned down his application, but he eventually stopped after a stop-work order was issued.

McLeod’s fight to turn the land into rodeo grounds attracted the support of local political officials.

Pimm, along with Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman, show up unannounced when ALC representatives came to the area to view the land after McLeod appeal the commission’s decision.

As agriculture minister at the time, Pimm and his office asked for updates on the status of McLeod's application. But Pimm's involvement with McLeod's application prompted criticism from the ALC, which charged that his involvement in the file was inappropriate.

Pimm also faced criticism from opposition leaders in the legislature and others in B.C.’s political scene.

"Premier Christy Clark selected a minister of agriculture who does not respect the ALC's independence and mandate to protect agricultural land in the public interest," NDP leader Adrian Dix said at the time.

IntegrityBC head Dermod Travis called for Pimm to resign over the matter.

Pimm was later cleared of any wrongdoing, however, following an investigation by B.C.'s Conflict of Interest Commissioner.

McLeod eventually sold the land and abandoned his development.

AltaGas purchased the property in late 2014, according to Adrianne Lovic, a communications co-ordinator for the company.

Now, the property could be turned into industrial land without the ALC having a say.

According to information provided by AltaGas, the company is applying to the Oil and Gas Commission for non-farm use of ALR land.

AltaGas said that under a delegation agreement, the authority to make ALR decisions regarding oil and gas facilities has been delegated to the OGC.

The company said the land would not be removed from the ALR, and would be returned to its former agricultural use and remediated.

The company is responsible for reclaiming the land in accordance with the terms of the agreement and/or permission for non-farm use, OGC spokesman Alan Clay, confirmed in an email.

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