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Langley fill foes not optimistic

A photo of a soil fill site in Langley shows there is more than top soil being dumped, as concerned citizens documented and presented to the Township on Monday. - submitted photo
A photo of a soil fill site in Langley shows there is more than top soil being dumped, as concerned citizens documented and presented to the Township on Monday.
— image credit: submitted photo

For several years, Langley Township staff, council, its lawyer and numerous rural residents have been knee deep in discussions about how to handle controversial and profitable fill sites on agricultural land.

On Monday night, council approved a revised soil deposit policy and bylaw that Township lawyer James Goulden said should make it harder to create illegal dumping sites.

Councillor Kim Richter and David Davis were opposed.

Modifications to the policy and bylaw were made from input received from concerned citizens, developers and council and finally the Township's law firm Bull Housser and Tupper.

The revised policy requires all applications over 600 cubic metres to go through a petition process whereby owners of properties within one mile (1.6 km) of the site can express support or opposition.

While applications will be referred to the ALC, applications having less than 80 per cent support from neighbours may be rejected by council and not passed onto the ALC.

The revised bylaw increases the security deposit. The current 10 applications in the hopper will be grandfathered and proceed under the old policy, said Township staff.

Fill sites continue to be in high demand in Langley. Since 2010, according to the Township, 112 applications have been made for fill sites in Langley.

At the Monday night meeting, Richter asked for the vote to be deferred. Her motion was defeated.

"I was concerned with the material that was presented to us from different members of the community who have been working very hard for the past seven months to help us achieve a bylaw that is tight and that reflects the wishes of the community," said Richter. "I'm concerned there is still outstanding items from their perspective so I would like to move a deferral of this bylaw to allow for a meeting to occur between the citizens who have been working on this, and the Township's counsel, Mr. Goulden?"

Councillor Bob Long wasn't convinced.

"We spend an exorbitant amount of time on this and we've had many, many delegations and a lot of advice and have spent a lot of money on this. I think it's time to move forward with it," he said.

Councillor Charlie Fox, who has been vocal on how badly soil deposit applications are handled, voted in favour of the revised bylaw and policy.

"We were elected at this table to regulate soil deposits, end of sentence. We have staff, you are the soil experts, we have decision making power and in the process, the buck stops here," said Fox. "It doesn't stop with the lawyer and it doesn't stop anywhere else. And folks, if a soil deposit screws up , you can look . . . not to the citizens, not the lawyers, to us. The lawyers have given us the tools, we need to apply them."

Concerned citizens who have spent countless hours, paying more than $200 for Freedom of Information requests on fill sites in the Township, as well as documenting illegal dumping and operations, wore pink flowers on their lapels and spoke to council about their concerns on Monday afternoon.

They aren't sure much will change with the upgraded policy and bylaw.

"There has been no discussion of enforcement," said resident Mei Lin Yeoell.

Goulden said enforcement would be at the discretion of council through to staff.

"Council only hears about the carnage from us every three months or so when we tell them," said resident Lisa Weih.

Residents offered photographic proof of sites where illegal dumping has taken place, where ponds have been filled in and where setbacks haven't been adhered to.

Developers clearing land to build houses often need somewhere to put the waste of clay, soil and other materials. Goulden was satisfied that the bylaw and policy goes far enough and all of it would stand up in court.

But neighbouring cities like Surrey require much more, including insurance to be bought for each fill site, said Yeoell. They also have many more enforcement officers.

Goulden said the ALC enforcement isn't as "aggressive" as the Township.

"So essentially they have downloaded that responsibility onto us," said Fox.

Goulden suggested council revisit the success or failure of the revised bylaw in one year's time.

— with files from Kristyl Clark, Times contributor

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