The Port Declares War

Jeff Nagel of Black Press (who is turning out to be the best Municipal Affairs reporter in the local Dead Tree Press) wrote a piece on recent proclamations by the new CEO of Port Metro Vancouver, and the reactions from various groups throughout the lower mainland.

My first reaction was – poor bastard from England has no idea what he is doing wading into ALR politics. Then I did a little research and see that CEO Robin Sylvester was party to the sell-off of part of BC Rail, so he is obviously aware of (and not afraid of) the worst of BC political morass. He knows exactly what he is wading into here, the poor bastard.

My issue with the Port Authoirty is not just their stunning disregard for the spirit of the Agricultural Land Reserve (even if, as a Federal Agency, it doesn’t apply to them), but their business model. It isn’t just farmland that the Port has declared war upon, it is our roads, our waterfronts, and the livability of our cities.

All of this discussion skips over the reason we have n ALR. It is because BC has very little high-quality farmable land, and most of it is very close toVancouver. Once farm land becomes industrial land, commercial land, or a neighbourhood, it is neigh impossible for it ever to be returned to agricutural use. none of these characterisitcs are true for Industrial Land. Industrial Land can be located anywhere, and land that was once industrial can be easily converted to other uses – and land under other use can easily be converted to industrial use. All it takes is for someone to spend the neccessary money to convert the land. So the need for an “Industrial Land Reserve” is a red herring. There is no scarcity of land to put warehouses upon, although there is currently a scarcity of people willing to spend money to deveop industrial land, and a lack of willingness for Cities to provide appropriate industrial zoning within their land base.
Which brings us to the Port, an organization that is exploting these issues, and is rapidly getting out of the business of taking things off of and putting things on to boats. If farmland (which is commonly located right next to the River) is sacrificed for that, they may have an argument for balancing out industry and farming. Frankly, if the current buzz-word “Food Security” is our primary concern, it is no worse than Golf Courses or cranberry bogs, or even the 100-acre greenhouses being built on ALR farmland today:

140 Acres of our best Reserved Agricutural Land in Delta

Except that the port isn’t using our prime farm land to take things on and off of boats. They are using it to take things on and off of trucks, something they can do on any land, really. No need to use ALR land. The only reason they choose to do this on ALR land is because they can buy ALR land at a fraction of the cost of non-ALR land. Since they are able to remove it from the ALR with federal fiat, they can convert it to valuable lease space for warehouses, instead of buying expensive commercial- or industrial-zoned land that municipalities have set aside for just that purpose.

This is because the Port is no longer in the business of taking things on and off of boats, they are now a real estate development and lease business. How else can one justify the purchase of more farm land in Richmond? Look at the port land adjacent to their recent purchase in Richmond:

click to zoom it. or go to Google Earth yourself

All those warehouses (actually there are more now, this photo is a little old), a new highway overpass to connect this land to the East-West Connector, and only one thing is missing: Docks. There is a single berth there for ships, where a single business moves wood pulp onto barges from the rails. Every other business there is truck-oriented, with only a couple even having rail spurs. This is the Port Authority business plan for ALR land. Buy cheap, develop, lease for cheaper than anyone else can. That’s the free market, I guess.

So what? Notice how much of the talk about the traffic issues in New Westminster are around “goods movement”. The issue always comes up of trucks crowding our roads, or our livability being eroded by the noise and pollution of all this container traffic on our roads. When people wonder why we aren’t using the river or the rails more, why there are all these trucks on the road. They aren’t bringing laves of bread to Safeway, they are shuffling goods from the actual Port to “Port Facilities” like these, and to the vast warehouse ghettos of places like Port Mann, Port Kells, and Port Coquitlam – all locations of huge truck warehouses, and all lacking in actual Port facilities to move things on an off of boats (with the occasional exception of logs and woodchips).

How will we ever make use of the goods movement opportunities of the River, when it is against the business interests of the Port Authority – the only agency with any jurisdiction over the waterfront?

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