Greater Vancouver is well known for being a great place to live and, even though average house prices remain stratospherically high, more than one million people are expected to move here over the next 25 years.
Such robust growth puts incredible pressure on roads, housing, schools, hospitals, etc., but the strongest challenge for municipal leaders is managing the demand for land. Hemmed in by mountains, the U.S. border and the ocean, the region has precious little land remaining for additional residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural use.
And, as the 21 Metro Vancouver municipalities attempt to co-ordinate their regional development, they must deal with an all-powerful and virtually unaccountable federal body. The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s mandate is to run Canada’s largest port, Canada’s Pacific gateway to Asia and, thus, a key contributor to the nation’s economy.
But many here feel that the port authority now has too much power and that its ambitious expansion plans come at too high a cost in regional livability, regardless of the port’s economic importance.
As a holdover from the Harper years in Ottawa, the port authority’s board is heavily weighted with industrial users that tend to put economic expansion above environmental or social needs in the community.
There appears to be very little in the way of a counterbalance to the port’s planned expansion, such as more shipping containers in the downtown harbour, at the Roberts Bank facility in nearby Delta or at Fraser Surrey Docks upstream on the Fraser River.
In Richmond, for example, mayor Malcolm Brodie and his council are fighting the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s purchase of 97 hectares of land for expansion. That land is protected as part of the province’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and zoned by Richmond for farm use only. Currently, the port authority is not required to recognize municipal bylaws or official community plans – even though the port’s jurisdiction borders 16 Metro Vancouver municipalities and includes 16,000 hectares of water, more than 1,000 hectares of land and 350 kilometres of shoreline. The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority can apply to Victoria to have land removed from the ALR.
But the full Union of B.C. Municipalities backs Richmond’s quest to have Ottawa order the port authority to sell its ALR land in Richmond or prevent it from buying more ALR land, as well as to make the port authority more accountable to local municipalities and taxpayers.
Similar issues – port development vs livability and the environment – also are at play at the Roberts Bank in Delta.
“We think it’s unacceptable to use farmland for port development and Port Metro Vancouver refuses to make a commitment not to do this,” says Ted Townsend, the Richmond municipality’s spokesman. “We think it’s time for the port to take a more balanced approach to expansion.”
With climate change triggering droughts in California and Mexico, for example, Lower Mainland farmland is more highly valued. And the port’s heavy truck and train traffic through the region is another hot issue.
Thus far, however, the new federal Liberal government has been quiet on these growing concerns. But the time is fast approaching when the feds will have to become involved. After all, it will be difficult to ignore a million people who want a nice place to live. IE
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