Skip to content

‘It’s a business decision’: Illegal dumping on the rise near Mission

ALC issues over 30 stop-work orders for Hatzic Valley properties in 18-month span
Trucks line up on Sylvester Road in the Hatzic Valley during October 2023. FVRD Area F Director Hugh Davidson says the amount of trucking on the roads is astronomical as illegal dumping has increased in the area. / Submitted Photo

Heavy trucks filled with excavated soil and construction waste have become a familiar sight for residents of the Hatzic Valley.

Upwards of 30 stop-work orders have been issued by the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) to properties outside Mission for illegally accepting fill over the past 18 months.

One stop-work order for a property on Stave Lake Road came after approximately 250 loads of fill had been brought from an excavation site in Maple Ridge, according to ALC documents.

The scope of activity has impacted both neighbouring properties and residents.

Deborah Bonfield lives on Stave Lake Road, near several of the properties that were issued stop-work orders.

The potential impacts on wildlife and farmland due to dumping have left Bonfield concerned. Additionally, the danger posed by the volume of heavy trucks in the area has kept her granddaughter from riding her bike or walking alone.

“There are trucks running up and down and it’s very difficult for two cars to get through, let alone a car and a truck. I have been face-to-face with a truck on that road. Our kids can’t bike there anymore and they can’t walk there anymore. It’s just way too dangerous,” Bonfield said.

On a Thursday evening in mid-March, Bonfield says she parked her vehicle in the driveway of one of the properties allegedly dumping fill to prevent trucks from entering. Three police cars arrived to ask her to move and she obeyed.

“I started blocking it myself knowing full well that I’m in the wrong because I’m on private property in their driveway,” she said.

Bonfield isn’t the only resident concerned by the dumping. Beata Kunze has been living in the region for decades and became president of the Hatzic Valley Community Association after the 2021 floods.

During a rainstorm earlier in the year, Kunze recalls trucks lined up, dumping loads of fill into a flooded property.

“Some of these properties … I don’t think that you can use them for agriculture anymore,” Kunze said.

With the Hatzic Valley relying on groundwater, Kunze also worries about contamination.

Trucks line up on Sylvester Road in Hatzic Valley in October 2023. FVRD Area F Director Hugh Davidson says the amount of trucking on the roads is astronomical as illegal dumping has increased in the area. /Submitted Photo

ALC director of operations Avtar Sundher says unauthorized fill typically comes from excavation activities involving large developments or home construction projects like basements.

“A lot of the times the soil that comes out of that is clay and typically has much lower quality for agricultural purposes than what you typically find on farmland,” Sundher said.

The placement of fill on agricultural land is prohibited under the ALC Act unless approved by the commission.

“If you don’t get that approval, you will likely be required to remove it and remediate the land afterwards,” Sundher said.

The dumping issues fall under the purview of several ministries including environment, transportation, fisheries, and agriculture.

Abbotsford-Mission MLA and agriculture minister Pam Alexis says the issue has been consuming.

“​​I get really frustrated because here we are in the agriculture ministry, supporting farmers to the best of our ability to ensure success and in my corner I’ve got this activity happening, which really keeps me up at night. I am just horrified at the behaviour and at the sacrifice that we are losing agricultural land that could be absolutely productive,” Alexis said.

Rain and runoff into healthier farms, contamination “in a big way”, and damage to the land are among the main concerns for Alexis.

“I have been kind of like a dog with a bone. I’m not giving up on this one,” she said. “I am horrified at the abuse and the sacrifice of this agricultural land, which is in many cases highly fertile. And to see this level of activity just breaks my heart.”

Sundher says ​​the fill is often thrown on top of good-quality soil and buries the topsoil that existed beforehand.

“If one property is filled – especially if it’s in a low-lying area – it exasperates the water retention and flooding issues on neighbouring properties or downstream,” he said.

Hugh Davidson represents the Hatzic Valley as Area F Director with the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD). With funding now in place for the area to create a flood management plan, fill adds an unknown variable to an already complex problem.

“Now you’ve got this wildcard called illegal fill and that just makes any sort of scientific endeavour that much more challenging because you’ve got this unknown variable which is going to mess up your flood model,” he said.

READ MORE: Province commits $10 million for flood mitigation in Hatzic, Nicomen Island

The Area F director says it’s hard not to be sympathetic with farmers accepting fill who are trying to protect their livelihood.

“You’ve got people who are scrambling to address climate change and you’ve got the perception anyway, that bringing in a lot of fill is going to solve that problem for a property that might have flooding issues,” he said.

Davidson estimates between 30 and 40 different sites in the Hatzic Valley are accepting illegal fill.

“A couple are pretty flagrant about it. I think many stop-work orders have been issued, but I think there’s a couple of sites that just carry on anyway,” he said.

The dumping continues because it’s more profitable to do so, Davidson says. Additionally, the construction activity in Metro Vancouver leads to a large demand for properties to dump fill.

READ MORE: Company receives stop-work orders for allegedly dumping on Mission farmland

“They’ve got fill that needs to find a place and it’s just become profitable to buy less expensive agricultural land and wreck it than it is to dispose of the fill properly,” he said.

The FVRD passed a resolution at UBCM in 2023 for the ALC to develop significant penalties and new enforcement tools to combat dumping.

“It’s a business decision and it’s a business decision that only the right regulatory framework can change,” Davidson said.

An excavator and three trucks work on a Stave Lake Road property on March 11, 2024. Over 30 stop-work orders have been issued by the ALC in the Hatzic Valley over the past year and a half. /Dillon White Photo

However, Sundher says it won’t be more profitable for the properties in the long run.

“Even though our enforcement takes time, there’s still enforcement at the end of the day. If a remediation order is required, then they need to remove all of that fill. So the cost of removing that fill and taking it to an authorized site will probably be more expensive than … any revenues that they generated,” Sundher said.

Offenders have the opportunity to voluntarily comply with ALC orders. If they don’t, the ALC ramps up enforcement by issuing other orders. Non-compliance and remediation orders are options, in addition to Supreme Court applications for a court order. The maximum administrative penalty is $100,000 but the ALC can issue it several times depending on the violation.

According to Sundher, if a remediation order is issued, trucks must return to take the fill elsewhere.

He says some properties in the Hatzic Valley are complying with orders while others have applied for authorization for the fill that’s already been brought in.

Meanwhile, Alexis is looking at different possibilities for strengthening penalties.

READ MORE: Climate change drives Hatzic’s challenges as project repairs damage from 2021 floods

Dillon White

About the Author: Dillon White

I joined the Mission Record in November of 2022 after moving to B.C. from Nova Scotia earlier in the year.
Read more