By Steve Hubrecht

Pioneer Staff

Invermere council voted to send letters to provincial energy and mines minister Bill Bennett and provincial agriculture minister Pat Pimm after discussing possible changes to B.C.s Agricultural Land Reserve at its most recent meeting last week.

It seems theres a lot of discussion around restructuring (the Agricultural Land Commission) in a way that takes away a lot of the power to do what it was meant to do, said Councillor Spring Hawes.

Ive heard it (the commission) may be changed so that large swaths of land are self-regulated by the energy industry; thats really concerning, said Councillor Paul Denchuk. We dont want to dismantle something just to throw it to industry.

Invermere mayor Gerry Taft said hes not opposed to reviewing the Agricultural Land Commission system, but said local governments and the Union of B.C. Municipalities should be part of that review, as well as the provincial government and other relevant organizations.

Its a matter of trust, the B.C. government says the commissions not going to change, but there are news reports on it, said Mr. Taft. Thats why we need to be at the table.

Mr. Taft said the Regional District of East Kootenay board of directors (which includes Mr. Taft) occasionally asks the Agricultural Land Commission to remove certain parcels of land from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and that the commissions decision-making often seems an inscrutable process.

It often seems like a roll of the dice (whether the land comes out or not); its so inconsistent and sometimes so illogical, he said. We could find a system that works better.

In the Upper Columbia Valley many parcels of land that are in the Agricultural Land Reserve are not really agriculturally productive and shouldnt be in the reserve, while other parcels of land that are quite agriculturally productive, including Edible Acres and Winderberry, are not in the reserve and should be, according to Mr. Taft.

The boundaries are flawed, he said.

Valley resident John Ronacher Sr. couldnt agree more. Mr. Ronacher has lived on his 11 acres of land on Westside Road for 40 years. The land is mostly clay, according to Mr. Ronacher, but its still in the Agricultural Land Reserve, a status he finds almost impossible to change.

On the coast, everything is coming out (of the reserve), he said. Yet for my crappy land, theres no way.

On three different occasions, Mr. Ronacher has lined up a sale for his land, and each time the sale ultimately fell through because the lands Agricultural Land Reserve restrictions mean it cant be easily subdivided.

Paying the considerable taxes on the large chunk of land is becoming onerous, he said.