By Cindy Filipenko
Pemberton is getting a new seed potato laboratory. And while new is always nice, farmer Joe Ronayne is annoyed at how the new facility came to be.
The previous facility was located on the property occupied by the Outward Bound facility, land that Ronayne’s grandfather donated in the 1940s with the stipulation it be used for educational purposes.
Ronayne alleges that developers had sought his family’s support for a rezoning application before the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District. In exchange for that support, Ronayne alleges that the developer, Ian Porter, said that the existing laboratory could stay operational on the property.
What that application contained is unknown, as it was withdrawn from the SLRD.
“I spoke with Ian Porter and (realtor) Drew Meredith when he had the listing on the property and wrote up an opinion of how that land could be rezoned,” said Steve Olmstead, planning manager for the SLRD. But I don’t know what they had in mind for the property, so I don’t want to speculate.”
While working under the assumption of a Feb. 15 deadline set by the developer, the Seed Grower’s Association was forced to act quickly.
According to Ronayne, disruption to the continuous operation of the seed growing facility would have resulted in the loss of up to two years of production. Instead of risking the possible financial loss, area seed growing farmers decided to build a new potato lab on Ronayne’s property and take the existing stock to a greenhouse facility as a temporary solution.
“The new lab will end up costing us about $20,000,” said Ronayne.
He was quick to point out that the cost has been kept low due to the substantial contributions of volunteer labour and at-cost building supplies. Ronayne, who suffers from MS, hired a local carpenter to execute his share of work.
While Ronayne did not support the particular application for rezoning of the Outward Bound property, he says that he is not anti-development.
“People sell property, it’s not about who owns the land, it’s the responsibility of human beings to protect the land for the future generations.”
Ronayne believes that overdevelopment and developing in ways that render farmland less useful are the real problems.
“It’s already happening. I was talking to a guy who grows spuds in Stockton (California) — last year they had 50 days of 100 degree weather — he sees the end is in sight.”
While the connection between global warming and farm production has been established, other effects of development are less obvious.
The Pemberton Valley farmer points to the phenomenon of people acquiring large properties and then essentially bisecting them to accommodate driveways that allow them to build on the far reaches of the property.
“The problem is shorter rows, it’s not as efficient and not as easy to farm. I have no problem with people building houses, but why not on the corner of the property? Don’t screw up the fields.”