Friday, February 11, 2011

Panama Flats purchased by Saanich

The property has been sold by Island Berry Farm to Saanich for $910,000 and two small properties that can be developed for housing.   Drained it is good land for farming, but I suspect this is land that Saanich should have purchased it decades ago to deal with the water management issue.  It is good to see that is has happened now.

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The property has a very important role as a floodplain in the winter months and it is the right thing to do for Saanich to buy the property.   For far too long the municipality offloaded their responsibility and costs for flood control onto the farmers.   Farms are not there to provide flood control, they are there to be farmed.

The decision to develop the property for berries that brought the issue to a head.  The owner was building berms to protect the fields from flooding and Saanich was not amused and even took him to court.  The courts quite rightly sided with the farmer.

Panama flats has not been in long term food production.   The area was purchased by Geoff Vantreight in 1978 - 44 acres from a private landholder and 20 acres from Saanich.   Vantreight purchased the land so that he could grow potatoes.   The golden nematode in Central Saanich precludes growing potatoes there.  Through the 1980s the Vantreights grew about 1200 tons of potatoes on this land each year, which were all consumed locally.

Panama Flats was not good land for growing as long as it was not drained.  Saanich had zoned it for farming and the land was within the ALR, but becuase of the swamp like nature of the land, no one had farmed it before.  To deal with this the Vantreights set up a drainage system, but did so a bit quickly and ended up dominating Victoria news in late 1978 because the work was done before there was approval for it.   Ultimately the work was allowed by Saanich and 1979 saw the first potato crop.

When Geoff Vantreight died, this was one of the properties of the farm that was sold.  That would have been a very good moment for Saanich to buy for less than they are paying now.  It would also have saved Saanich all the money they spent on legal fees dealing with the dispute.

Saanich is considering what could be done with the land, I suspect the best option would be to back off of farming on most of the land and restore most of it to being a wetland.   There are areas on the western edge that might be OK for farming, but the area would be too small to be economically viable.   The tenure would be a lease which means only one of the significant farms in the region could take it on s they have the equipment needed to farm.   Something smaller than 25 acres is unlikely to be worth the hassle of running your equipment all the way to Panama Flats.

Another option under consideration is allotment gardens.   I suspect that is the best choice for land that is to remain in some form of production.
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