The visitors’ centre and courtyard are the first places that greet visitors to McLean Mill National Historic Site in Port Alberni, B.C. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

The visitors’ centre and courtyard are the first places that greet visitors to McLean Mill National Historic Site in Port Alberni, B.C. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

McLean Mill site will be better used outside of the ALR, say proponents

City of Port Alberni will decide whether to apply for removal of ALR at 2 p.m. meeting

Taking McLean Mill National Historic Site out of the Agricultural Land Reserve will provide more flexibility for site use, say proponents of the application.

However, that freedom means no limits, and that’s worrisome, say those who want the site kept as part of the ALR.

The City of Port Alberni is considering applying to remove 11.5 hectares of the McLean Mill site from the ALR after the Agricultural Land Commission denied a previous application for non-farming use. A public hearing was held Tuesday, March 23 where members of the public were invited to share their opinions on the matter.

Council has scheduled a special meeting for 2 p.m. Monday, March 29, 2021 to discuss whether to apply for ALC exclusion. The meeting will take place via video conference and will be livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel.

Four e-mails were received for consideration. Five members of the public participated in the public hearing via Zoom, with two people speaking in favour of removing the parcel of land from the ALR.

John Adams, who operates a beef cattle farm on Batty Road near the mill site, said removing the property from the ALR would give the city too much freedom to develop it as it sees fit. “Without the ALR regulations being applied the city could do as it pleases,” he wrote. “There are many of us in the ALR that don’t wish to farm, but must adhere to rules so in the future, there is farmland. To allow McLean Mill to be excluded would create a free zone in the middle of a large ALR zone with devastating results.”

Susan Roth wrote to say the city’s application contains inaccuracies about non-farming activities such as operation of a steam mill, which Roth points out hasn’t operated since 2016.

Roland Smith said non soil-based agriculture could be achieved on the site if it were to be left in the ALR. He said the city is contradicting its own Food Security and Climate Disruption Committee by considering removal of agricultural land from protection of the ALR.

Two people who have worked in food security and agricultural production in the Alberni Valley disagreed with that point of view, saying the site would have greater flexibility if it were taken out of the ALR.

“I see the McLean Mill National Historic Site as a site for opportunity, both from a farming perspective and a tourism perspective,” said Genevieve Huneault, who has worked with food security in the Alberni Valley and works with a national Indigenous tourism organization.

“I think if it’s developed responsibly and sustainably we can see McLean Mill as more than just a cultural and historic site.” She said she would like to see the city create a strategic plan for the site that includes input from both the Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations.

Anna Lewis, an agricultural support worker with the ACRD, supports removing McLean Mill from the ALR because the parcel in question doesn’t have much agricultural value—especially because of recent contamination that came to light. “There is a lot of under-utilized farm land in this Valley and a lot more arable land than this site at McLean Mill.”

READ: City of Port Alberni asks for non-farm use for McLean Mill

READ: ALC denies City of Port Alberni’s application for McLean Mill

Scott Kenny, representing the Alberni Valley Enhancement Association, expressed some concerns about the 1.3 hectares that would remain within the ALR and contains land used to support a fish hatchery that has operated on the site for two decades. He was concerned that the fish fence, pedestrian bridge and forested trail on the east side of the property wasn’t included, but the city confirmed these areas are not impacted by the application.

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