Northern Development Initiative Trust to administer Site C agriculture funds

The Northern Development Initiative Trust has been named administrator of the BC Hydro's Peace Agricultural Compensation Fund.

The Trust will help oversee the $20-million fund, created to offset the impacts of the $10.7-billion Site C dam being built just outside Fort St. John. 

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"As fund administrator, Northern Development Initiative Trust will manage the fund and act as a secretariat to the regional decision-making board, which is responsible for overseeing the management and disbursement of the fund," BC Hydro said in a news release Wednesday, Sept. 5.

The board held its first meeting in May, and is responsible for managing and awarding grants from the $20-million fund in support of agriculture production and related activity. Grants are expected to start flowing as early as 2019.

The Trust was established by the province in 2005, and has doled out more than $142 million to more than 2,000 projects in Central and Northern B.C. It already oversees BC Hydro's Generate Opportunities Fund, which awards grants to Peace Region non-profits throughout Site C construction. 

According to Hydro, the Trust and board "will work together to develop a strategic five-year plan, fund application packages and evaluation criteria, as well as a financial management plan."

The board is made up five regional agriculture groups, local producers, and the Peace River Regional District. Appointees to the board include:

  • BC Grain Producers Association - Rick Kantz
  • Peace River Forage Association of BC - Heather Fossum
  • Peace River Regional Cattlemen's Association - Howard Goertz
  • BC Breeder and Feeder Association - Connie Patterson
  • Peace Region Forage Seed Association - Blair Hill
  • PRRD Board - Angela Watson
  • Gene Gladysz, member-at-large (one-year term)
  • Travis Winnicky, member-at-large (two-year term)
  • Malcolm Odermatt, member-at-large (three-year term)
  • Colin Meek, Peace River Valley agricultural producer (two-year term)

The members-at-large are agricultural producers in the Peace, according to the province, and will serve staggered terms "to ensure that one member-at-large position is open each year."

Talks on the fund began in November 2015.

The impact on local farmland has been one of the most contentious issues around Site C, which will inundate some 10,000 acres of prime 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."

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

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