Chris Lepine is hoping to share the natural taste of a Harrison Mills spring with the rest of the world.
And if the Fraser Valley Regional District approves a rezoning request for a small portion of his land to allow for a small bottling plant, he could do just that. He would also be able to provide a handful of jobs locally, and help promote the rural region he calls home.
Lepine is the owner of Christopher’s Springs, at 14400 Chehalis Forest Service Road. The land sits between Elbow Lake and Echo Lake, and includes a portion of Elbow Creek, where Lepine already draws water that he sells in bulk. That water currently is trucked to an off-site bottling plant. He is hoping that building the plant will help build the local economy, rather than creating jobs elsewhere.
His proposed bottling plant would require about 0.7 hectares of his 13 hectare parcel, and the rezoning is necessary to change that land from institutional to industrial.
His water license allows up to 25,000 gallons of water a day, but the bottling plant he’s hoping to build would only produce about 3,280 gallons of drinking water per day.
The FVRD held a public hearing last Wednesday at the Harrison Mills Community Hall. More than 100 people turned up to hear more details about the proposed project and land use changes.
Several people spoke against the project’s plan to draw water out of Elbow Creek, but were reminded that the water license is a separate provincial matter and out of the hands of the regional district.
Public comment is now closed regarding the land use change, and prior to the public hearing the FVRD reported it had received 46 written responses. Of those, 34 were in favour of Lepine’s proposal, and 11 opposed it.
Supporters include his aunt, Betty Ann Faulkner, owner of Pretty Estates. Her father and grandfather were local pioneers who helped develop Harrison Mills into the community it is today, with a history stretching back to the late 1800s.
“I believe our family’s entrepreneurship, it has helped the Harrison Mills area, and I think having this bottling plant would be better than having another housing development,” she added.
Lepine told the crowd his own history with the land, as caretaker of Elbow Creek for the past 22 years. He is the contact person for mitigation along the creek, is the one who installed a fish ladder in that waterway, and operates two water systems and a power system at Pretty Estates.
The watershed is important to him and his family, and he promised that if the watershed suffered harm from his project, he’d shut it down.
But he doesn’t foresee that happening, he said.
The lowest flow of Elbow Creek historically is about 2,000 gallons per minute, and he’s currently drawing .006 per cent of that. At his full operation, he would be draining .012 percent of that lowest flow.
“I’ve spent a great portion of my life taking care of Elbow Creek,” he said.
However, the land use is what the regional district has to mull over before they make their decision at a future meeting.
Resident Cynthia Watson asked them to consider the fact they’ve made a corporate decision to not use bottled water within their offices and at meetings.
Notably, FVRD director Wendy Bales sat in the audience instead of at the table with the rest of the directors. She is sitting out of the issue to avoid any potential conflict of interest. She did speak as a resident, though, to say that she is against any industrial development.
Lepine stated that he has a backup plan if the FVRD chooses not to allow the rezoning.
“I will go elsewhere,” he said, shipping the water to a bottling plant in an industrial area, most likely in Abbotsford.
If the plant is built in Harrison Mills as Lepine hopes, he will be subject to higher property taxes.
Some of the residents who spoke out against the project stated they are concerned that a bottling plant would eventually grow and become a problem, attract more industrial activity, and that the plant would be bought up by Nestle Waters, who operate in Hope.
Resident Kevin Sass noted that the closest neighbour to the plant is Chris Lepine himself, and that having the plant would offer good jobs locally.
Summer Dhillon stated that the plant could help “put Harrison Mills on the map.” She has built a company that is working on branding the area, and securing funding from the province to help promote it.
“We need to bring more money to this community,” she said.
The full report from FVRD staff is available at www.fvrd.bc.ca.