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More discussion needed on festival request for parking on farmland, says VOP

Last-minute request doesn't sit well
DRY CHANNEL This area on SLRD maps is termed a "dry channel," but is clearly a stream. One SLRD director said a 30-metre setback should be mandatory before the nearby land is approved for parking. Photo by Lynn MItges

The Pemberton Music Festival is just over two months away, but the rushed application to acquire more parking land — at the expense of farmland — has come up for discussion at the Village of Pemberton council table.

Of concern is not only that agricultural land may temporarily be used for parking/camping if approval is granted next month by the Agricultural Land Committee (ALC), but that the festival is growing to almost 40,000 people.

At the regular council meeting Tuesday, May 3, Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman reported on the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) recommendation to approve a temporary permit on two parcels of land for additional parking at the popular music festival that takes place from July 14-17. Richman is also an SLRD director.

At a SLRD directors' meeting April 27, the temporary permit application was approved for review by the ALC.

"(The permit) already went to the (ALC) board," said Councillor Jennie Helmer. "We never voted on it."

Helmer went on the explain that the addition of about 40 hectares of land to be used for parking and camping is a big step: "Was it too much? And what do we accept? And this conversation (to discuss this) hasn't happened."

Councillor Ted Craddock agreed with Helmer, adding that council didn't look at the proposal. "Every time something major comes along, they seem to push the politicians into a corner," he said. "Now by this agreement we could be adding another 15,000 people."

Added Richman: "I've said it very clearly at the (SLRD) board table, this last-minute stuff doesn't work." He clarified at the council meeting that he understands that more tickets can't be sold unless the additional parking on farmland is approved by the ALC.

Commenting on Richman's defence of the SLRD recommendation, Councillor Karen Ross said: "I'm surprised at the talk around the table — (festival organizers) need that many people to make it a viable production. I guess what we didn't know was that it was going to involve additional lands, but those lands are in the regional district, so I don't think there was anything wrong with (the process followed here)."

Looming deadline

The application for the additional parking and to temporarily change farmland designation came to the regional district only last month. And the tight deadline also concerns SLRD Director Doug Race.

"Holy smokes — it's dumb that this comes along this late in the game," said Race. "This should have happened a long time ago."

Race makes it clear his opinion is neither that of the SLRD nor its directors.

At issue is that several homes back onto the newly cleared 67 hectares, and potential parking would be close to water wells. What is termed a "dry channel" in SLRD maps is actually a fish-bearing stream, and Race said the riparian area — the interface between the land and stream or river — should have a standard 30-metre setback.

"There's a question of the contamination of the wells," Race said. "There's also just the question of encroaching on the riparian area and, normally with development, you don't encroach on the riparian area unless you get a Qualified Environmental Professional (QEP) to say that it's OK."

Race said the upcoming ALC decision would trump all. "They have the final say. But if they do allow this is a temporary use and they decide based on their knowledge and the evidence before them that there is no real long-term effect on agriculture, or if it will enhance agriculture because it clears more land so eventually when the parking stops on that property that it will be in better shape for agriculture than it is today — then they might allow it."

But Pemberton resident Jessica Delaney, whose property backs onto the dry channel and whose well is a stone's throw from the proposed parking area, says well contamination is unacceptable.

"From my perspective I was glad to see there was a recognition of the risks of contamination, but at the same time I feel like there's also an acceptance that contamination might be just an expected consequence," she said.

Delaney said it sounds as though the SLRD has added a condition of well remediation but the reality is that the aquifer could be contaminated in a worst-case scenario.

"Just the fact that we all recognize that as a risk and we're willing to put some conditions to remediation is good, but it would be better if the contamination never happened," she said.

Race says Delany's concern is valid.

"That's a legitimate concern, absolutely... You sort of have to apply some common sense — vehicles that come right up close to a well site or a water course and people are just using it for a bathroom for heaven's sakes. It ain't great."

VOP Councillor James Linklater said council was getting bogged down in a discussion that needs to be held.

"The Temporary Use Permit (TUP) has been in place for three years — it's not fair to throw hurdles and roadblocks at (festival organizers) when the TUP comes up for renewal."

Ross suggested council speak to the issue further in the fall to find out if there needs to be any more land pulled into the festival site.

Water treatment options

In other business, council moved and seconded the recommendation from the Committee of the Whole to request a proposal for cost of the installation of soda-ash treatment for the VOP water supply.

Richman said this option excludes the common addition of a corrosion inhibitor in light of Vancouver Coastal Health recommending a rise in acceptable pH levels from 6.5 to 7.5. The use of soda-ash alone may allow the pH to rise to 8, which will help the corrosiveness as well.

Discussion must be ongoing with residents to address water issues in light of recent lead contamination, said Richman.

"We need lots of talk, lots of input," he added. "We don't know if people have the time or the desire to wrap their head around what to choose. And we're still looking at similar communities that use soda ash. I think people realize it's almost a necessity. We still want to hear where people stand."