Early details on Site C agriculture fund released

BC Hydro expects to release its full plan on mitigating agricultural losses caused by the Site C dam in the new year. 

Provincial Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick was at the Dawson Creek Fall Fair Friday to announce details of the "framework" that shaped the plan. Those include construction management practices, developing individual farm mitigation plans for producers in the valley who will lose land to flooding, managing "residual" farmland, and establishing how a $20 million compensation fund will be administered.

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The full plan will be released in January 2017. The entirety of the fund will be spent in the Peace Region, Peace River North MLA Pat Pimm said in a statement. 

"This framework has been shaped by input received during consultation with agricultural producers," Letnick said. "I encourage the agricultural associations and producers to provide their feedback on the framework to ensure the plan supports the agricultural priorities of the region."

Talks on the fund began in November 2015 and ended in January of this year. 

Letnick said the $20 million fund would go toward agricultural improvements outside the flood zone and be administered by a board that would review grant proposals.  

Projects could include irrigation on parcels currently considered too marginal for farming, he said. 

The impact on farmland has been one of the most contentious issues around Site C. Opponents of the dam say it will destroy 31,528 acres of prime Class 1-7 farmland along 83 kilometres of the Peace River Valley.

BC Hydro, meanwhile, touts a Joint Review Panel conclusion that the loss of farmland in the valley is not significant “in the context of B.C. or western Canadian agricultural production.”

The panel determined the annual value of crops produced in the valley is around $220,000, though it also noted the threat of Site C expropriation has discouraged agricultural investment in the valley. 

"While this may be due in part to the continuing threat of expropriation, the more important reasons are labour costs and the availability of cheap produce from elsewhere," the panel report states. "Only if the future holds a radical end to current cheap food prices and a breakdown in interregional and international trade would higher figures become credible. The proposed $20 million agricultural investment fund, to be spent on improvements outside the inundation zone, is generous by comparison."

The $20 million is separate from money that will be paid to farmers who lose land to flooding, Letnick said. 

"When people say to me 'why are you doing Site C, isn't that having an impact on farmland?' And yeah, it is, around 3,000 hectares, but compared to over two million hectares in the Peace Country that's in the ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve) and 4.6 million province wide," he said.  

He said between 10 and 15 farmers will lose their farms to Site C. 

"We understand that, and I feel for them," he said. "But the greater good is the low cost of electricity that we can provide not only to the general public in Vancouver and the Okanagan and everywhere else throughout the province, but also to farmers, and ranchers and fishers." 

The province is accepting feedback on the plan through Sept. 26. 

Read the full plan here.

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