Richmond farmers and environmentalists opposing the dumping of waste materials on farmland took their protest to city hall Thursday afternoon.
Forming a convoy of two tractors, several trucks, cars and bicycles, they hauled chunks of asphalt and rebar on the back of a farm wagon that have been deposited on farmland in the 9300-block of Finn Road.
The group appealed to mayor Malcolm Brodie that a local bylaw be drawn up to stop the process they believe is contaminating productive soil.
The land in dispute is owned by Canada Future Investments and operated by Bill Jones and Dave Sandhu, the dumped material is to be used to build a road across fields that will eventually be turned into a tree farm.
Longtime local farmer Ray Galawan was leading a blockade protest that started Wednesday and shared in the common concerns of the size and positioning of the proposed road.
It measures approximately 30-feet wide cutting diagonally through the farmland. He said he has tried every avenue to stop the dumping.
"A week ago, I was told there was going to be changes done here by the agrologist. Six days have gone by and nothing has changed," said Galawan, who has lived and worked in the area for several decades.
"There was an emergency meeting called Monday night at city hall. I heard they were going to come down here with an official stop-order notice yesterday. This did not happen."
Galawan said his concern is that if the tree farm isn't successful, the farmland full of first-class soil will be rendered useless.
He made a trip to the city bylaw office asking if there was a bylaw regulating the dumping of concrete on agricultural land and was told there wasn't one.
Fellow farmer Bob Featherstone's father used to own the large 34-acre property and farmed on it for almost 60 years.
"I think if my dad had a chance to come back for one day, it would kill him all over again to see what's happening," said Featherstone, 69.
"They're bringing in chunks of concrete the size of bathtubs, burying it out there, now they're putting chunks of blacktop on top which is tar and oil.
"Once that's leeched into the farmland, it's done forever so we're just trying to protest to make them stop it."
Thomas Loo, compliance and enforcement officer with the Agricultural Land Commission, also paid a visit to the site on Wednesday to assess the situation. He said regulation is difficult because it's permitted use.
"I'm not sure if I have any legal clout to issue an order of cease and desist because it's not technically a contravention, however I think if I can get them to stop bringing stuff in and to do the road until we sort of resolve this issue then that's something I'd like to at least propose," said Loo, adding he hopes this will happen within a week's time.
Loo said there isn't enough evidence either way to validate the effects of asphalt on soil.
"Every road in the province is built with this stuff," he said. "You get more oil coming off badly maintained vehicles and storm runoff.
"When I talked to the Ministry of Environment they haven't come out and said 'this is a problem.'"
Jones, who leases and operates the site, called the blockade "an exercise in futility."
"We were doing nothing wrong," said Jones. "We may be forced to get a legal opinion on what the next course of action is."
He added that both he and Sandhu are farmers and not soil poisoners, and the large chunks of concrete will be used for a road base. A wide road is necessary to accommodate large fill trucks carrying soil deposits.
He said the tree farm is part of their plans that are at least two years down the road.
- with a file from Philip Raphael
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