Pemberton ranchers await ALC decision 

The Pemberton-based owners of agricultural property at 7476 Prospect Street are standing in muck as they await a decision from the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) that could allow them to subdivide their property.

Bob Menzel and Susan Perry, owners of the property that currently houses Adventures on Horseback, have filed an application to the ALC to subdivide their approximately 30-acre property into nine one-acre lots and leave aside 20 acres for a common farming area.

Perry sent a letter to ALC Planner Tony Pellet on April 28 that was later forwarded on to Village of Pemberton (VOP) council and included in its May 5 agenda package.

The letter states that she and Menzel have been "struggling for years" to make a farm out of a property that was "never farmed in the past, nor meant to be farmed" despite lying within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), a provincial area where agriculture is a priority use.

Agriculture, however, has been a challenge on the property, which Perry said is a wetland that's never been farmed before.

"This land is not suitable to be farmed by conventional means," she said in the letter. "It never will because of bottomless swampland, support for the weight of tractors and other farm machinery. It has always been a drainage area for all the farmlands south of Miller Creek, as it is the lowest land area in the Arn Canal drainage system."

The wetness of the land has been such an issue that Menzel and Perry have lost four horses who drowned in the boggy land, including "Splash," their prized breeding stallion.

"Constant high water levels deem it virtually impossible to grow and harvest crops and unsuitable for maintaining livestock," she wrote.

VOP council initially reviewed Menzel and Perry's application at a June 3, 2008 council meeting. Then-councillor Jennie Helmer, a farmer herself, opposed the application because she worried that it would take land out of the ALR. Then-councillor David MacKenzie supported the application because he didn't want to tell a property-owner what to do with his land.

Council later approved the application at an Aug. 12 meeting, with Helmer and Mayor Jordan Sturdy opposed.

Perry said in an interview that ALC officials visited the property in April and essentially gave it a passing glance when they arrived.

"Basically we just climbed up on the railway tracks there, had a look from above," she said. "After reviewing or looking at the water situation on our property, from the bird's eye view from the tracks, they then got in their van and drove away.

"It was so sudden. They said thank you, bye-bye, and off they went."

Sturdy, who opposed sending the application to the ALC, was also present at the meeting with ALC officials and hadn't been to the property for a long time before the visit.

"I'll tell you, I was surprised," he said. "I was surprised at how much water was actually back there.

"My position has been that I think we need to look at a comprehensive design, for that whole area there, to... improve the drainage of that whole area there."

VOP council approved the application with a caveat that the owners could work to enhance Two Mile Creek, which bisects the property, with "effective stormwater drainage" to provide a buffer between urban development and agricultural lands.

Now the decision rests in the hands of the ALC, and both Perry and Menzel are anxiously awaiting a response.

"Everybody seems to think that they will grant the subdivision but we haven't heard anything," Perry said. But she didn't say when the ALC would be meeting to make its decision. A previous Pique story reported that the ALC would hold a hearing on the subdivision in January but no decision has yet been made.

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