PRRD wants horticulture a priority in Site C compensation

 The Peace River Regional District says help for the horticultural industry needs to be a top priority when decisions are made on how to dole out the $20-million fund to offset farmland that will be flooded by the Site C dam.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Energy and Mines and BC Hydro have been consulting with agricultural stakeholders since November on how the fund will be spent. This work wraps up Jan. 29.

According to Area B Director Karen Goodings, four meetings have already been held throughout the region - one in Hudson's Hope before Christmas and three so far in January.

The regional district has pushed to be part of the planning for distributing the funds in the past, but now it's also pushing the fund's steering committee to give top billing to the horticultural sector.

At a meeting held in Fort St. John, "horticulture was brought up as a significant concern," Goodings noted at a Jan. 14 board meeting. 

"The loss of being able to produce... locally is something that we felt needed to be high on the list," Goodings said. "The agricultural mitigation fund should be targeted to the area which is going to be impacted. The sector which should be targeted is horticultural, because that is where the major loss is going to be."

Discussion on the topic at the meeting was spurred by a letter from residents Kevin and Barb Knoblauch, suggesting the PRRD develop community orchard programs "as a learning and extension tool for those who aspire to (be a part of) the (horticultural) industry."

"We could all have such wonderful community orchards in about 10 years if our junior levels of government would endorse our plan," the Knoblauchs wrote.

Goodings pointed out that the regional district's role in promoting the horticultural industry as a priority for the fund is key, since there is no professional group to represent the sector in the region.

"One of the problems that exists is that all of the other producer groups like the grain producers, the cattlemen and so on all have very active and well established professional organizations," she said.

"The horticultural industry does not."

Area E Director Dan Rose voted against sending the letter of support for the industry.

"I think as far as singling out one particular industry... we have to be careful of that," he said.

"It doesn't hurt to encourage the steering committee to make extra effort to involve those not represented by the producer groups. But... I don't think it's up to us to pick one group over the other. I think it's up to us to include everybody," he later added.

Chetwynd Mayor Merlin Nichols advocated for development of the Pine River valley to replace the lost agricultural lands on the abnks of the Peace.

However, Chief Administrative Officer Chris Cvik said it was too late to suggest that idea.

"To be adding (that idea) at this late stage in the game, I don't know how that would be received," Cvik said.

It was also noted that doing so would pose difficulties for development because the land in the valley is privately owned, and not Crown land.

Hudson's Hope Mayor Gwen Johansson spoke in favour of Goodings' motion to support horticulture.

"The basis of mitigation is to replace (what you are losing)," she said.

"The argument I would make is that the sector of the agricultural industry that is going to be most effected by Site C, I believe, is horticulture. I haven't got involvement in the industry one way or another except I do eat vegetables once in a while.

"We need to pay particular attention to horticulture because that is what is being lost," Johansson said.

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