A court battle is brewing over a road used by hundreds of gravel trucks each day and the precious land on which it sits.
In June, the City of Abbotsford filed notice to expropriate land that sits beneath a road constructed a decade ago to access several gravel mines on Sumas Mountain.
But the road sits on a right-of-way on one of Abbotsford’s most talked-about pieces of undeveloped land, and last week the company that owns the property filed notice calling on a judge to stop the expropriation.
That filing cited the road’s proximity to the Lightning Rock burial site, which also sits on the property. There has been no indication that the right-of-way or road sits on any burial areas, but the filing says it’s close enough to affect use of the site.
The land sought by the city encompasses a winding stretch of road that runs through a property that, for years, had been the subject of negotiation between the company that owns it – Cold Water Ranch – and the Se:math (Sumas) First Nation and the provincial government.
Five years ago, Cold Water Ranch had sought to develop the site for use by agriculture equipment dealers – a proposal that was narrowly rejected by Abbotsford council, in part due to concerns about the impact on the Lightning Rock site, which sits at the north of the property.
Earlier this year, Cold Water Ranch and the Se:math teamed up for a rally to call for the province to buy the land and then turn it over to the Se:math.
Meanwhile, the right-of-way that allows for vehicles to use the road expires in 2020. The road is not used by the general public, but is heavily trafficked each day by hundreds of gravel trucks.
It was that truck traffic that prompted the road to be built in the mid-2000s. Before that, the trucks had used Sumas Mountain Road, but increasing amounts of heavy traffic through their community led Se:math members to blockade the road in 2003.
Those protest prompted the construction of an alternate route off of Atkinson Road on the right-of-way now in question.
The owners of four other properties agreed to extend their right-of-way contracts when the city came calling, Mayor Henry Braun told The News. But John Glazema, the owner of Cold Water Ranch, did not.
With the quarries expected to be in operation for decades to come, Braun said the road, which he said cost the city more than $6 million to build, remains necessary in order to bypass the Se:math community.
He said the city had been waiting for some resolution to discussions between Cold Water Ranch, the Se:math First Nation and the province. But Braun said that when the city heard those talks had broken down, it moved to expropriate the land. Braun said he had spoken personally both to Se:math chief Dalton Silver and the owner of the property, and both had spoken of their opposition.
But Glazema says the expropriation notice has thrown a wrench into discussions about the piece of land.
“It just antagonizes the whole process,” Glazema said.
In its court filings, Cold Water Ranch said “efforts are still being made by the Sumas First Nation and Cold Water Ranch to negotiate with the Province.”
The filings say other options exist for a road to the gravel quarries, “including building a road running parallel to the Trans Mountain Pipeline or a thoroughfare through the municipality.”
The filings said that the company and the First Nation hoped that the end of the right-of-way agreement would have helped facilitate a land transfer. The filings also call on the court to consider the right-of-way and the proximity to the Lightning Rock site.
“The city is fully aware that, by maintaining the [right-of-way] at its current location, the expropriation serves to perpetuate the damage the [right-of-way] does to the sanctity of Lightning Rock and will continue to disrupt the cultural and spiritual practices of the Sumas First Nation.”
Glazema said his company is seeking to recoup from the province about “95 per cent” of the money spent on the property.
Calls to Se:math chief Dalton Silver had not been returned.
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