The City of Port Alberni’s application to exclude McLean Mill from the Agricultural Land Reserve is breaking new ground, not circumventing the process, says an ALC policy analyst.
Several residents concerned with the way the city has dealt with the mill property complained to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) that the city hasn’t followed the rules with its application to remove 11 hectares of land at the mill from the ALR.
Lindsay McCoubrey is a policy analyst with the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), which considers applications for land within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) in British Columbia. She said the process of applying for exclusion from the ALR is new as of September 2020.
“It’s not surprising that there’s confusion, especially since we’re in a new semi-revised process,” McCoubrey said. The McLean Mill exclusion application is among the first the ALC will be considering under the new process. It is also unique because the city—a municipal government—owns land that is outside of its own jurisdiction, but inside of the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District.
In this case, the city is considered a “public body applicant” and the ACRD is the local government. “It’s confusing because the province changed our regulations with respect to exclusion applications. This is one of the first if not the first application where the local government (is considered a public body applicant),” McCoubrey explained.
Officials from the city and ACRD have kept each other up to date on this file, said Twyla Slonski, city director of corporate services. She and ACRD general manager of planning and development Mike Irg have communicated on the application process.
The city held a public hearing March 23 on whether to apply to remove 11 hectares of land at McLean Mill from the ALR. Susan Roth questioned the legality of the public hearing, given the mill property is technically in the regional district, but the city followed new ALC regulations that came into effect September 2020, McCoubrey said.
“The idea that the City of Port Alberni as applicant has to host the public hearing is new as of September 2020,” McCoubrey confirmed.
Roth was one of two people not living within city boundaries who emailed their opposition to the application. The city’s public notice had said anyone who felt their interest in property would be affected by the application would be afforded “a reasonable opportunity” to be heard.
The public notice for the hearing ran in the March 10 and March 17 print editions of the Alberni Valley News.
Roland Smith of Port Alberni has spent more than a decade diving deep into the details of how the city has operated McLean Mill since it first opened July 1, 2000. He said the fact that the city has to apply to remove the land from the ALR in the first place is just another in a series of costly missteps.
The city was denied an application in 2020 for non-farm use of the property after complaints were made to the ALC. The city has had to clean up a toxic spill from the log pond into Kitsuksis Creek and most recently, has spent more than $1 million cleaning up bunker oil that spilled from a rail tank car stored beside the train tracks at the mill.
“We’re talking about public policy and public money on this McLean Mill file,” Smith said.
“If the land comes out of the ALR, the land comes out of the ALR. That doesn’t matter to me. Process matters to me.”
Steven Laing, who is with the ALC’s compliance and enforcement branch, said the city has met its deadlines and kept him up to date with their progress on the ALR application as he requested.
“We’ve done our due diligence,” city CAO Tim Pley said.
Pley said the city has updated Laing every couple of weeks with their progress, which Laing confirmed. The city’s submission was sent to the ALC’s electronic portal on March 31, a day before Laing’s April 1 deadline. The application was automatically sent to the regional district through this system, McCoubrey said.
“I am more than satisfied with their efforts,” Laing said. “A delay in the final submission is not a concern. It’s a delay based on a technicality, definitely not on purpose.”
He said it is not unusual for the ALC to work with a local government or a farmer to guide them through the process.
The application was with the ACRD as of Friday, April 9. McCoubrey said the regional district will have to review the application and forward it to the ALC, but that it won’t require the ACRD board to pass a resolution. Irg said he was waiting for final instructions from the ALC on how it wishes the regional district to proceed.
Members of the public are able to comment on the application to the ACRD and, once it is back with the ALC, to that governing body.