BC Hydro and the Province are being urged to protect and preserve 555 acres of prime Peace valley land for farming instead of turning them into a wetland along the Site C reservoir.

The lands are adjacent to the Peace River southwest of Charlie Lake, and contain Class 1 soil above the reservoir that have produced 92 bushels per acre of canola crop, high protein wheat, and up to 600 pounds per acre of alfalfa seed, according to Blane Meek of Wilder Creek Ranching.

Meek, who has leased the lands for 30 years from BC Hydro, says that with irrigation, the land could “produce fruits and vegetables in abundance” and should be preserved.

“The high quality of land in the valley with its climate and fertile soil, and aquifers should be used in the future for speciality crops, and future generations,” Meek wrote in a July 26 letter to the Peace River Regional District.

“We always knew we would lose part of this land to flooding by Site C, but had hoped that we could buy the excess land or at the very least, continue to farm this very fertile soil.”

“With a berm across the narrowest section, this land could still be utilized for agriculture,” said Meek.

Directors of the Peace River Regional District agreed, voting at their Aug. 12 meeting to write Premier John Horgan and Agriculture Minister Lana Popham to note their opposition to BC Hydro’s plan for the lands.

The company is required to create 550 hectares of wetlands to replace what will be flooded by the Site C reservoir, noted Board Chair Brad Sperling, but both Meek and the PRRD say there are other areas more suitable for developing new wetlands.

“This is again prime agricultural land. It is being taken out of our reach to be able to grow food and have our food security in our region,” said Electoral Director Karen Goodings (Area B).

Said Sperling, “There is hundreds and hundreds of acres of unusable land that they can be looking at, and this is prime bottom land that they are going to be turning into a wetland with no indication that they’ve looked in other areas. None.”

BC Hydro and Ducks Unlimited are already planning to develop new wetlands in the Upper Cache area to replace the Watson Slough being flooded along Highway 29. Meek suggested the Monias area on the south side of the Peace River area is better suited for wildlife and bird habitat than the lands he has been farming.

At the meeting, directors said they would also raise the issue with its community liaison committee with BC Hydro, which has been meeting quarterly during construction of the dam.

Tumbler Ridge Mayor Keith Bertrand said the regional district should request BC Hydro use land with Class 4 or 5 soils for wetlands development, instead of fertile valley land.

“It’s going to be important in the future to protect that Class 1 soil,” Bertrand said.