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Pemberton Festival decision may come this week

Agricultural Land Commission meeting all week in Vancouver

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The fate of the Pemberton Festival could be decided this week as the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) holds meetings in Vancouver.

Colin Fry, the executive director for the ALC, which administers land that lies within B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve, confirmed to Pique that an application for non-farm use on the festival site will come before the commission’s South Coast panel.

The panel deals with land use in areas such as Greater Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and Squamish-Lillooet.

Fry said the South Coast panel would be meeting on Monday and Tuesday of this week, but he could not confirm which day the festival application would be discussed.

“I’m only safe to say that the matter is going to be put before them this week,” Fry said, adding that the ALC’s annual general meeting would be taking place on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

He said it’s not certain that a decision will be made on the application and that the results of the meeting may not be known until later next week.

“First of all, I don’t know what the outcome would be, one way or the other,” he said. “Obviously we’ll be required to make sure that the first person that knows is the applicant, so it may be later in the week.”

Organizers of the Pemberton Festival had to reapply to the ALC for non-farm use on the site because the ALC only approved this year’s festival on the site.

Calling the site “some of the best agricultural land in the province,” the ALC expressed disappointment that it was not more closely involved in planning and was concerned that holding the festival there could debilitate the agricultural quality of the land.

Festival organizers later submitted another application for non-farm use to the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, which has to review land use applications before they can go to the commission.

The SLRD’s regional board approved the application and tagged on a request that the land be confirmed for non-farm use once a year for 10 years. The fate of that application now rests with the commission.

Shane Bourbonnais, president of Canadian touring and business development for LiveNation and lead organizer of the festival told Pique that without a decision on the festival site, planning for a 2009 festival can’t go ahead.

“The deadlines aren’t really imposed by us, they’re imposed by the industry,” he said. “The artists that are touring next summer are all routing their tours right now. The bottom line is I should be sitting here talking to bands about playing Pemberton, but I can’t do that right now because we don’t have a green light.”

The Pemberton Festival drew an estimated 40,000 people to the site with a lineup that included bands such as Coldplay, Nine Inch Nails, the Tragically Hip and Tom Petty. Community input has been overwhelmingly positive, although detractors noted traffic and security problems.

It’s believed that 40 arrests were made during the weekend of the festival, July 25 to 27.

Mayor Jordan Sturdy said no other sites are being considered for the festival and that if it’s going to happen in British Columbia, it needs to take place on its current site.

“This is more than about Pemberton, it’s about B.C.,” he said. “If we’re not successful it’ll be devastating to the community on an emotional level. Obviously we have many other opportunities and it’s not the end of the world, but it would be devastating to the community.”

Sturdy said the Pemberton Valley and the surrounding region have been “thoroughly assessed” in terms of possible locations, but said that “no other realistic options” exist.

“All other options have been assessed and rejected, perhaps is the most accurate,” he said.

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