Two Pemberton property owners awaiting approval from the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) for non-farm use of their property for Pemberton Music Festival parking and camping now face an appeal hearing with the Environmental Appeal Board (EAB).
A May 12 EAB remediation order for alleged damage to farmland was served to property owners Marion Ayers and Brenda McLeod, who have retained Vancouver lawyer Graham Walker of Borden Ladner Gervais to file an appeal — and request a stay of remediation. The remediation order cites disturbances to riparian vegetation, the banks of a stream, exposed soils, and natural drainage, among others on the 41-hectare site.
Colleen Smith, Executive Director of the EAB, said the stay has been granted pending a hearing, the date of which has yet to be determined. Smith could not determine whether there is enough time to have the hearing take place in advance of the festival, which kicks off July 14.
The ALC decision appears to trump all. Eamonn Watson, a land-use planner with the ALC, said the ALC act clearly states a land owner must comply with any applicable acts, regulations, bylaws of local government and decisions and orders of any person or body having jurisdiction over the land under an enactment, which would include the EAB.
"An owner still has to comply," Watson said. "Nothing from the Agricultural Land Commission's perspective would absolve (the property owners) from having to comply, I don't believe."
But the landowners' lawyer stated in an email that, "the two are completely separate issues. The ALC process has nothing to do with the EAB matter. The EAB matter involves an Order issued by the Province," which seemingly contradicts what Watson of the ALC said.
Walker went on to say: "My clients are entitled to use their farm for whatever farm use they see fit. The property is used for farm use all year long. For a few days per year, the permitted non-farm use is parking for the Festival as a key component of the traffic management plan in order to avoid major traffic congestion on Hwy 99... (as was the case in 2014 and 2015)."
Jack Crompton, Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) chair, said the SLRD cannot approve the temporary-use permit for parking or camping unless the ALC approves the non-farm use application. The next scheduled SLRD board meeting is June 22, but he said if the ALC approves the application, the board could schedule a special meeting to rule on the temporary permit.
The ALC has no timeline for the non-farm use application. "We're doing our best to respond as quickly as possible. We know there's some tight timelines with the SLRD with respect to the temporary- use permit," Watson said.
The non-farm use is a contentious issue for five nearby property owners — their wells are close to the water channel — who have banded together to give evidence at the appeal hearing.
The EAB remediation order stems from a Feb. 25 visit from Natural Resource Officer Murray Watt, who noted the farmland was not cleared with authorization from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, and the clearing resulted in "significant impact to the environment, specifically in and about a stream." Watt also cited the lack of a developmental permit for the work.
Resident Jessica Delaney, whose property backs onto the stream, said she and four neighbours have watched as the lands were cleared beginning last fall.
"It was intense activity," she said of the 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. clearing that took place seven days a week. "At the end of the day, we draw our drinking water from that channel." She added that although the process appears rushed, government and land-use bodies were notified of the activity back in December 2015.
In another development, the ALC in a May 17 letter took issue with the Village of Pemberton (VOP) for not providing a clear indication of its position on the non-farm use of the properties.
Colin Fry, Chief Tribunal Officer for the ALC, said in the letter that agricultural enhancements should be led by the VOP and the SLRD, and that land-use changes should be used to support agriculture more broadly in the valley — and "not simply related to specific properties involved in and adjacent to the Festival."
Fry also voiced concern that such permits could open the floodgates for further non-farm land use in the valley.
Crompton said the SLRD's recommendation for non-farm use has conditions, including pre- and post-festival soil and water testing, remediation measures, the insistence that no gravel surfacing be used, and that agricultural planting is undertaken before and after the event, among others. A Memorandum of Understanding between the VOP, the SLRD and the ALC is in effect to help ensure a "no footprint" approach and, most importantly, to undertake measures to enhance agriculture in the valley.
At one point in the ALC letter, Fry questioned why the festival doesn't continue on lands that were approved previously, and why the festival needs to expand at all.
But Mike Richman, VOP Mayor, said he's a little surprised by the ALC's request for the Village's stance on the applications. "I didn't expect the request just because the lands aren't in our boundaries," he said. The VOP council called a special meeting May 26 to address the ALC's concern and to give official support for the applications.
"The festival is a huge economic drive. It's $20 million in local wages — that's massive and that's really important to our area and I want to support that," said Richman. "I also want to make sure that it doesn't come at a cost or an expense of any of our values in our valley, including quality of life and protection of farm land."
Richman said he wants to step back and assess the effects after this year's festival.
"This festival is going to be a little bigger than last year. How's that look in our town? How's everybody feeling? We want to make sure we capture all that before the next temporary-use permit, make sure our residents are liking the direction it's going and hopefully we can find that balance."
Richman said the late applications for non-farm use caused difficult conversations and required council to react quickly.
"It was a little last minute," he said. "Had we had a little more time to work through this I think we could have broken it down a little easier, made sure everybody was covered. The intention is — after this festival — that public consultation take place earlier and more thoroughly," he said.
In a previous presentation to VOP, David Buttrey of Huka Entertainment, which operates the festival, said that if approval is not granted for additional parking and camping space, festival participants would have to be shuttled from Whistler.