Driediger Farms Facebook photo

Summer road closure could cost Driediger Farms $500K

Rail crossing upgrades require closure of 72 Avenue during the Langley farm’s busiest season

The owners of Langley’s Driediger Farms fear they may lose as much as $500,000 if the Township proceeds with a road closure scheduled for this summer.

In a delegation to council last week, Rhonda Driediger made a request to delay railway upgrades at the 23800 block of 72 Avenue until September, 2018.

The crossing is one of 29 in the Township that must be upgraded by November, 2021 under Transport Canada’s new grade crossing regulations.

Construction will require a complete closure of 72 Avenue and as a result will cut off access to Driediger Farms during their busiest season, Rhonda said.

“So, you’d like to close my road — the only road to my market, actually directly in front of my market — from May to September. We [will] have a lot of negative impacts,” she told council.

“I’m thinking I’m probably going to lose at least half a million dollars in sales.”

READ MORE: Township on the hook for $6 million in railway crossing safety improvements

The Driedigers first opened their family farm to the public in 1972 with a small ‘pick-your-own’ operation. Today, the 160-acre farm produces strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, and the family runs a seasonal market from May to September, with about 60,000 annual visits.

Rhonda said that 10 per cent of their customers come from Abbotsford and east, 35 per cent come from Langley, and 55 per cent come off of Highway 1 from communities in the west. These customers represent about 15,000 vehicles, which will be re-routed “down the snake hill” on 232 Street, along Rawlison Crescent, and up 240 Street, where neighbours are “already struggling with speed issues.”

Neighbouring Thunderbird Show Park could also be affected, as their horse show season attracts thousands of people to the area in the summer, she said.

“I’m going to have to reduce staff, obviously, to reduce costs, and I have 200 trucks that come in to our facility every year,” Rhonda said.

“I’m not sure how we’re going to get them to my place and out.”

READ MORE: Local blueberries going abroad

Rhonda said she is also disappointed by the way the road closure was communicated to her family. She found out about it from a neighbour, and when she phoned the Township to inquire, she said she was told by engineering and community development manager Ramin Seifi that the work has to be completed in the summer as they “don’t like to work in the rainy season.”

Seifi said he does not recall the specifics of that conversation, but noted there is more than one reason for the timing of the project.

“One is — not that staff don’t like working in the winter — but that winter conditions usually add a significant cost to the project, in particular those that are requiring significant fill in the order of five metres,” he said.

There are also limitations with a grant the Township received from the federal government.

“It is correct that the works do not have to be completed until 2021, but the fact is that the application that was made by staff over a year ago was based on a timeline that required completion of the works by November of this year, which means that if we wish to have the grants — 50 per cent of the funding provided by the federal government — we’ll have to get the work done before November,” Seifi said.

“We’ve actually made the request for further extension [of the grant], but there’s been no response yet, hence the issue of the risk,” added Township CAO Mark Bakken.

“The value to the Township in terms of the cost of construction being shared by the federal government is about $1.5 to $2 million on a $3 to $4 million project, so it certainly has significance to both parties. I think the farm concerns are certainly paramount in some of these issues. The question still is a bit time sensitive though, because we’re hoping to get a response that could actually give us some more options.”

After hearing the delegation, council unanimously referred the issue to staff for follow-up.

Mayor Jack Froese declared a conflict of interest before the delegation began, and was not present for the presentation or the vote.



miranda@langleytimes.com

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In a delegation on March 19, Rhonda Driediger asked council to delay railway crossing upgrades near her farm until September. The construction work will require the closure of 72 Avenue, which she says will negatively impact her business. Miranda Gathercole Langley Times

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