Critics say prime Cowichan farmland should not be returned to marsh

Critics say prime Cowichan farmland should not be returned to marsh
Gerald Poelman farmed the land for 28 years before being evicted at the end of September.

A controversial move for a piece of Cowichan farmland has been raised in the B.C. Legislature.

The land is slated to be converted back into a marsh, but the farmer who’s been working the land and B.C.’s opposition parties say it’s a wrong move as it’s prime for farming.

Gerald Poelman gets emotional when talking about the nearly 70 hectares he’s been farming for over 28 years.

“It feeds a lot of livestock in the Cowichan Valley,” said Poelman who was evicted at the end of September.

Poelman says he became aware of the plan two years ago to remove dikes and return the area to a marsh that will be submerged.

“It’s just devestating. It’s a big slap in the face to agriculture. They want agriculture in this province and in our community and poof let’s get rid of the best land that we’ve got,” said Poelman.

The Nature Trust of BC and Ducks Unlimited Canada bought the former Dinsdale farm in 1990. It’s been leasing the land to Poelman until now but says the Cowichan Estuary Restoration project “represents a strong commitment to environmental stewardship as well as community resilience against the climate crisis and local sea level rise.”

It says its partners, scientists and consultants have determined that a complete removal of the dike will provide the most significant benefits in terms of allowing natural coastal processes to resume, benefiting biodiversity, watershed health, and the climate.

But it’s not flying with the BC Conservative Party who questioned the government in the legislature Thursday.

“To the NDP premier why are you so eager to take land out of the agricultural land reserve to create a marsh while refusing to repurpose underutilized ALR land for more housing for everyday British Columbians?” asked John Rustad, leader of the BC Conservative Party.

“Farmland is precious to all of us in British Columbia,” responded Pam Alexis, B.C.’s agricultural and food minister. “I’m not familiar with this particular case.” She asked Rustad to reach out to her after question period.

BC United agricultural and food critic says he has been working on this file for a long time and says certainly B.C.’s agricultural minister is aware of it.

“It’s just unbelievable that in this day and age of trying to secure food security and secure all our best farmland that we have left in B.C. that there would be an opportunity for the NDP government to turn their backs on this issue and allow this dike to be breached and this 170 acres of prime farmland to be flooded with salt water,” said Ian Paton, BC United’s agriculture and food critic.

In a statement Alexis said it’s very important that we preserve farmland but this land is not being removed from the ALR. She says an application needs to be made to the Agricultural Land Commission, which is independent to government, for the dikes removal and the land’s move away from farm use.

Poelman says he still doesn’t agree with the move as it’s the best farmland on Vancouver Island because it’s subirrigated with river silt which is perfect for growing crops.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said the Agricultural Land Commission did approve the dikes removal and the land’s move away from farm use when the minister’s statement said an application needs to be made for that to happen. We apologize for the error.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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