Hot rural residents vented some steam at Abbotsford council on Tuesday evening.
Some 300 rural residents packed Bradner Hall for a town hall meeting that lasted more than three hours, but covered only two topics: ditching and drainage, and a proposed 225-acre industrial park.
The language was often colourful. Council was told to “stuff it,” and twice Mayor Bruce Banman had to reprimand people who used profanity.
Dawne Marie Stappler noted that if Abbotsford could leave the Fraser Valley Regional District, then Matsqui could go back to being separate from Abbotsford – the municipalities merged in 1995.
“We want our building (city hall) back, and you can put your offices in the sports and entertainment centre,” she told council.
Banman responded: “I’ve got to admit, that’s pretty good.”
Banman opened by apologizing to the crowd for a letter the city mailed to rural upland residents, which advised the city would no longer take responsibility for maintaining ditches adjacent to their properties.
“I want to apologize for that letter. I read that letter, and if I got it I would want to be feeding it through someone’s front teeth,” he said, and received a round of applause.
Nonetheless, everyone who approached the microphone was critical of city hall asking rural upland residents – those in Bradner, Mt. Lehman and Sumas Mountain – to either pay a ditching and drainage levy, when it is a service they have always received, or maintain their own ditches, as the letter also suggested.
Stappler warned that other municipalities have been sued because of flooding on private properties, and Abbotsford could find itself in legal trouble.
“If council can vote 15 and 20 per cent raises for staff, why can they not find money to clean our ditches?” asked Cherry Groves.
Rob Isaac, the city director of wastewater, drainage and asset engineering, explained that in 2009 council suggested a drainage levy of approximately $900,000 per year in the areas, and it was opposed by the property owners. Since then, city hall has not maintained the ditches.
“Tell us about it,” said one member of the audience.
Isaac noted there are about 110 requests that the city address drainage issues in the areas each year – about 100 from Bradner/Mt. Lehman.
Daren Alary, MC for the evening, noted the city had been budgeting approximately $200,000 for ditch work in the uplands, and then went to residents for $800,000.
A proposed industrial park, on Abbotsford’s westernmost border, received similar shelling. It was criticized by almost everyone who spoke, with detractors saying the development threatens the rural lifestyle in Bradner, and removes productive farmland.
The park would involve 22 individual properties, and is being proposed by the Emerson Real Estate Group.
City economic development officer Jay Teichroeb explained that getting approvals for the park, which is in the Agricultural Land Reserve, will be a long process, and there will be ample opportunity for future public input.
Patrick Selinger, one of the 22 property owners who would sell to the developers, noted his farmland and that of the general area, has thin soil. As farm property, it would only be suitable for raising animals in a barn.
He was heckled to the point that Banman had to intervene on his behalf, and finished by urging councillors to consider the facts, and not the “knee-jerk” and “emotional” reactions they will get to the industrial park.