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Cowichan farm still needs gravel extraction permit

The Agricultural Land Commission has approved a Balme Ayr dairy farm plan to remove and replace gravel with feed-growing fill on its spread near Dougan’s Lake. -
The Agricultural Land Commission has approved a Balme Ayr dairy farm plan to remove and replace gravel with feed-growing fill on its spread near Dougan’s Lake.
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Balme Ayr dairy farm has reached first base in its gravel-extraction and feed land-reclamation bid.

But despite the Agricultural Land Commission’s March 19 blessing for Balme Ayr’s phased boosting of farmland potential, Oliver and Shelley Balme are likely months from hauling gravel from their 27.9 hectares north of the Island Highway near Dougan lake.

“They need a mines permit, and there’s environmental-impact assessments,” said Cobble Hill regional director Gerry Giles, “so this is really just the start of the process they have to go through.

“They’ve removed the trees from where they want to begin the extraction. I couldn’t hazard a guess as to when removal could start.”

In July, Cowichan Valley Regional District directors voted to tell the ALC they oppose Balme Ayr’s nine-phase plan, over 15 years, to pull 3.2-million cubic metres of gravel, and replace it with soil suitable for growing cattle feed. That decision was based on worries B.C.’s environment ministry staff couldn’t properly police that haul-and-fill job.

The CVRD and the ALC also heard concerns from Balme Ayr’s neighbours regarding noise, dust , traffic, and disruption to other nearby farms during the work.

But owners Oliver and Shelley Balme were blunt about their goals in a public letter last summer, dismissing CVRD ideas a vineyard may best fit their land.

“This proposal starts and ends with agricultural land. We make milk. We do not need a vineyard, nor do we need a subdivision,” they state. “We need land to grow crops to feed our cows who make the milk that feeds the community.”

ALC brass approved Balme Ayr’s application, basically citing its mandate to preserve farmland, and encourage farming in concert with other local bodies.

The ALC concluded phased, quarterly monitoring and reporting of Balme Ayr’s progress ‘will adequately address potential issues of disturbance or impact to nearby farming operations.”

Non-farm issues, such as noise, dust and traffic, were best handled by other approval officials, the ALC explains.

The Balmes must post a $500,000 irrevocable letter of credit to ensure gravel removal and filling is done under professional advise and monitoring. They also need an industrial-access permit from the transportation ministry.

Gravel processing on their land would need CVRD rezoning, or a temporary-use permit. Their other option would be trucking the gravel off site. But again, the Balmes have clearly stated their intentions.

“All we are trying to do is make a piece of our farm, that is deemed 42.7% un-farmable farmable, and keep it in the ALR.

“Gravel does not grow crops, nor does it grow grapes.”

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