For about 30 years John Flaming has farmed in Ladner, and the construction of the South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR) threatens to cut that way of life short.
The 58-year-old beef cattle farmer jointly owns 33 acres with his brother, a plot of land neighbouring 72 Street with Ladner Trunk Road to the south and Highway 99 to the north.
The new trucking highway, part of the provincial government’s Gateway Program to address port-bound container truck traffic congestion, will enter his property at the southeast corner – by 72 Street and Ladner Trunk Road – and cut diagonally across the land to exit at the northwest side.
It will sweep around his barn and the home his children grew up in and obliterate 17.29 acres, much of it the land on which his 38 head of cows, calves and a bull now graze.
“It doesn’t work well for farming. They’re taking most of my pasture land in the north end. I either have to get rid of my cows or move somewhere else,” says Flaming.
His is one of 30 properties in the Agricultural Land Reserve impacted by the SFPR.
For a number of years the provincial government has been in talks with the farm owners to negotiate compensation. Benefits to the entire agricultural community include an upgraded irrigation system as well as overpasses and service roads for farming vehicles.
Currently, Flaming lives on another property in Ladner where he makes hay to feed his cows in the winter months. He says the three to four years of negotiations has put him on hold when it comes to maintaining the cattle farm.
“I don’t know whether to fix things. I fix what I need to fix,” he says.
Preloading for construction in South Delta is currently taking place to the south and north of Flaming’s property, and he thinks plans are to begin readying his land for construction. He’s been served with expropriation papers, but he says Gateway staff have now told him the expropriation is “on hold.”
Flaming says the government has offered him much less than what his appraiser told him his land is worth.
“Unfortunately it comes down to money,” he says.
He would be content to relocate somewhere else in Delta if the provincial government offered him enough money to do so. His issue is more with what he perceives as a lack of appropriate compensation than with the politics of the highway.
Greg Hoover looks out over the farmland from the Hwy. 17 railway overpass and shakes his head at the activity in the distance below.
He watches as a series of dump trucks scurry back and forth taking away loads of soil being scraped up by large earth-moving machines as the soft ground for the SFPR is prepared.
Asked if the truck route can be successfully built through here and then go on to the north and skirt Burns Bog where the ground conditions are even more spongy, Hoover replies, “You can build anything, it just depends how much money you’ve got.”
Hoover, who is well versed in construction projects (he is president of Aries Construction Management Ltd.), says the SFPR is following the wrong route in the wrong place. With that conviction in hand, he and Olav Naas, who worked on several civil engineering projects such as the George Massey Tunnel, joined forces – at the urging of former Delta-South MLA Val Roddick five years ago – and devised what became known as the Hoover-Naas proposal.
The suggestion was to have the SFPR divert off Deltaport Way at Highway 17 and run east-west parallel to the BC Rail tracks and eventually join Highway 91.
The proposed dedicated truck route, which is available for viewing at thereisanotherway.com, is claimed to not only be less expensive, but consume far less farmland and have firmer ground to be constructed over.
Plus, their plan calls for a truck inspection station and weigh scale to be put in place along the new road, something that is not on the current route.
Hoover says he fears building the road along the northern boundary of Burns Bog is fraught with problems.
“Olav (Naas) worked on the railroad that goes through that area and he says they dug down 70 feet and still didn’t hit anything,” Hoover says. “And they want to build a four-lane highway over top of that type of soil?”
Hoover adds he also fears a repeat of the Tsawwassen power line controversy where the public acted too late to protest the installation of upgraded BC Hydro lines through an existing right of way that crossed residential areas.
While a protest group of affected homeowners waged a lengthy battle to have the lines re-routed, the greater community did little until last summer when the power poles were being erected.
“Right now, this is not too late for the community to do something about this road,” Hoover says. “This is all only preload they are putting down to prepare the soil for construction. It can all be scraped off and the land returned to normal. But we have to act now.”
Eliza Olson, president of the Burns Bog Conservation Society, also fears the SFPR. More accurately, she worries about the unknown potential for the highway to impact the massive peat bog which has been frequently referred to as the “lungs of the Lower Mainland” for its ability to act as a carbon and air pollution trap.
“I want to emphasize it (SFPR) is going on bog, it’s not going through conservation area, but just because there’s a line there it doesn’t mean the land on the other side is not bog,” Olson says.
The value of the just over 5,000 acres of bog that have been protected by local, provincial and federal governments has not been fully realized Olson says.
“We are about 20 years behind the rest of the world in trying to save our bogs,” she says. “If we were in Ireland this (SFPR) wouldn’t be an issue.”
To help build public awareness about benefits of the bog, the conservation society holds summer day camps and International Bog Days during which tours of part of the site are conducted.
What we’ve looked at with this route is it represents the best balance of all the interests,” says Pam Ryan, director of planning and community relations for the Gateway Program, adding the current alignment considers the community’s needs and the impact to farming and the environment.
As for a perceived threat to the bog’s wildlife, Ryan says there have been provisions to assist wildlife in the area by constructing corridors for animals to pass back and forth in and out of the bog.
“It’s a common thing that has been done in other highway projects to ensure wildlife can continue to pass,” she says.
Since 2004 there has been plenty of discussion on the road’s alignment, Ryan says, and the current route makes the best sense.
Switching to one that seeks to expand existing highways and roads – such as a revamped River Road – would have required substantial reconstruction at the intersection of Ladner Trunk Road and Highway 17, extended the amount of time to complete the project, and impacted residential properties on Highway 17.
“It just wasn’t feasible,” Ryan says. “We actually did look into it, and from a community perspective and it was rejected ... We believe this represents the best way this project can proceed.”
Back on John Flaming’s farm, he stands beside the home in which he used to live as his cows graze to the north.
“I would hope that better minds than us thought this through,” he says. “They say they need it, so I don’t know. It’s a shame they have to go through farmland.”
- by Philip Raphael and Kristine Thiessen
This story is the second in a series on the South Fraser Perimeter Road. The first, “Highway controversy,” appeared Aug. 5, 2009.