A lively meeting hosted by opponents of a proposed South Surrey truck-park facility saw a Surrey councillor defend the application process, a former Surrey mayor blast it and allegations of a threatened lawsuit involving school children relating to the proposal.
The meeting, hosted Sunday by the Friends of Hazelmere Campbell Valley and attended by more than 150 people at the Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club, was in response to an application for a 77-acre truck park at 16 Avenue and 194 Street. The application was met with criticism by several environmental groups when Coun. Tom Gill raised the issue last September, tabling a motion to exclude the parcel of land from the Local Area Plan (LAP) for the 600-acre green space in which the lot sits.
Though project proponents GG Metro Holdings have insisted the facility would “protect the integrity” of the area, which sits adjacent to the Little Campbell River, opponents say the environmental risk is too great.
Former Surrey mayor Bob Bose told the crowd Sunday that he shared the environmental concerns for the application, which he described as “absolutely hideous,” and “logistically nonsensical.”
Bose pointed to Gill’s perceived involvement in the application, suggesting the councillor was “going beyond his reach as a council member and becoming an advocate” for the project.
“On the evidence, is Tom Gill truly impartial?” Bose asked. “Can he be expected to adjudicate on this application in an unbiased way?”
Gill told Peace Arch News Monday that he has been working on creating more truck parking in the city “over the last 10 years,” and that it was one of the first issues he brought up following his election in 2005.
“I can honestly suggest to you that I’ve had well over 1,000 inquiries on separate properties from different developers or interested groups wanting to open up any variation of truck parks – small, medium or large,” said Gill, who did not attend the meeting. “This site is really not much different in terms of the context of the conversations that I’ve had with many developers over the years.”
Gill said the proposed site “does have merit,” pointing to location near truck routes and on a gravel pit that is “not agricultured land.”
He acknowledged the environmental concerns but noted the applicant had been working with consultants to address them.
“I think there has been a lot more work done than is being suggested,” he said.
Bose, however, was adamant the application should be stopped.
“Somebody on council better stand up and put the motion… that this application be put to bed,” Bose said. “End of story.”
Organizers of Sunday’s meeting said all of Surrey council was invited, however, only Coun. Mike Starchuk attended.
Asked by an attendee during a Q&A session if he would table a motion to have the application halted, Starchuk responded he had not yet seen project details.
“I have no interest in having something come to the community that’s going to damage the environment, that’s going to damage the drinking water,” he said. “I’m in a position where I’d like to be able to say I’ve seen all that.”
Asked why the application was being fast-tracked outside the LAP, Starchuk took issue with the term “fast-tracked,” noting it was being moved forward “in conjunction with” the LAP.
Asked if he would take a stand against the application, given past concerns he expressed about the cost of farm land for young farmers, Starchuk said if he believed the application would have a negative impact on land costs for farmers, he would oppose it.
One speaker asked about a video created by Surrey elementary students appealing to council to protect the river and oppose the project, which allegedly was met with the threat of lawsuit from the developers.
Semiahmoo club president Bob Donnelly confirmed a video had been made by Grade 4 students from a school that he would not name, to persuade council to not support the truck park.
“The developer was never named,” Donnelly said. “It was, pure and simple, an appeal to the mayor and council to please help save the salmon.”
Donnelly said he was later told by the teacher that the developers had threatened to sue the school and that the matter was in the hands of district lawyers.
A school district spokesperson told PAN he was not aware of the video or any legal threats.
A GG Metro Holdings spokesperson in attendance Sunday said he was unaware of any legal threat, but that he had asked the teacher for a “respectful discussion with students.”
“The concern with the video was that the students did not have an accurate picture of what was actually going to happen,” Patrick Giesbrecht said, noting the teacher agreed to hold off on distributing the video, however, two weeks later it was reportedly sent out via Twitter. The video has since been taken offline.
Gill told PAN he was not aware of the video, and that he had not seen it.
“To my understanding, I don’t recall seeing a video,” he said.