Local farmers filled District of Kent chambers to capacity on Monday night this week. Many items on the agenda related to farming and drainage issues

Discord between council and farmers bubbles up in meeting

Farmers want more input into Hammersley pump upgrade plans in Agassiz

A letter written to Kent council outlining concerns about the Hammersley Pump station project was addressed point by point by staff at Monday’s council meeting.

The letter, which was signed by about two dozen residents, farmers and business owners, requested that “council consider alternate proposals” for the aging pump station, which is now about 60 years old and in need of repair.

The letter writers believe the District is in violation of the Request for Proposals and that local farmers’ concerns haven’t been taken into account since the project started to be discussed in 2009.

Northwest Hydraulic Consultants provided a proposal back in 2009, which was open for review by the public at the time. Funding for a detailed design and flood box construction was applied for in 2010, with a two thirds grant from the Building Canada Fund. This January, that grant application was finally approved, upon completion of a environmental assessment review. That was completed in April, and an RFP for qualified engineering consultants went out for the project. That contract was awarded to Opus DaytonKnight Consultants on June 11, 2012.

The June 25th meeting was the first public meeting since that time. And council and staff shot back at the letter in that meeting, pointing out misinformation within it and setting the record straight with a formal, written response. That was read out word for word by Mick Thiessen, Director of Engineering Services during Monday’s meeting, which was attended by dozens of people, filling the chamber room to capacity.

As expected, the issue struck up lively discussion among council, and then more discussion in the question and answer period at the end of the meeting.

Councillor Duane Post, a local farmer, said that without the knowledge he has gained over the last few months as a councillor, he likely would have had the same concerns.

“If I was sitting on that side of this desk, I might have signed it, too,” he told the crowd. But he also urged those with concerns to be patient and “let the process that’s been started continue.”

“I don’t want to see the funding that may be coming in the future jeopardized,” he said.

The new pump will need to be fish-friendly, according to DFO rules. But the next step in the process is the completion of a detailed design. Opus DaytonKnight was to meet with the drainage committee on Thursday of this week, after deadline.

Council urged members of the drainage committee to address their concerns to the consultants.

But Councillor Lorne Fisher, who was mayor when plans to repair the Hammersley Pump Station, suggested that local farmers need to represent themselves in a better light.

“This letter contains a great deal of misinformation and it’s rather regrettable,” he said, adding that “it doesn’t put farming in a good light, especially at a time when farming needs to be seen as environmentally mature. I’m quite frustrated with that letter.”

He said the project needs to be funded by senior governments, due to the high costs, and that those upgrades will have to be fish-friendly to qualify.

Mayor John Van Laerhoven also worried that “discord” between farmers and local council could jeopardize the pump station’s planned upgrades.

“I’m very concerned,” he said. “I want to see us get the best result for the whole community.”

Council voted all in favour to formally send the written reply to all member of the drainage committee and signatories of the initial letter.

Mending bridges

The issue of culverts and bridges also came up on Monday night, with a proposed plan to properly document all such structures officially through the District.

Staff intends to categorically document all 530 culverts and bridges that are located around Kent, on an annual basis, with all defects and hazards reported. Council approved the missive, but there was much discussion about the role that the drainage committee has been, or should be, playing in reporting deficiencies.

“I’m all for maintaining culverts where needed, but we have a drainage committee and we should utilize it,” Post said.

Councillor Darcy Striker made a friendly amendment to the policy that it is sent to the drainage committee.

Van Laerhoven’s hope is that the district staff and directors of the drainage committee could work together to “make sure everything is covered.”

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