Cows and geese grazing on land in Columbia Gardens. (Scott Leyland photo)

What you see …

If you have a recent photo to share email it (large) to editor@trailtimes.ca

What you see …

A very moo-ving image shared by Scott Leyland.

Leyland’s photo conjures up images of yesteryear with cows quietly grazing while a train rolls in the far background.

He actually snapped this picture, however, on Monday (Nov. 25)

If you have a recent photo you would like to share with our readers email it, in large or actual size, to editor@trailtimes.ca.

*******

Interesting read about this area from former Trail Times reporter Ray Masleck:

“Neighbours and industry battle it out; Station Road residents, business owner uneasy as RDKB drafts new OCP bylaw”

Trail Daily Times

Tue May 5 2009

There are two differing views of Station Road, depending on which side of the pavement you are on.

The nine families in the area, who live mostly on the east side of the rural road in Columbia Gardens, see their neighbourhood as prime agricultural land that would be a pastoral heaven – if not for the landowners across the road and the regional district, who consider it a strategic industrial zone.

A road-to-railway reload centre established on the west side of the road four years ago creates noise, dust and traffic safety problems, according to its neighbours, who are concerned about further industrial development in the area. These homeowners and farmers, who live along the “upper bench” of Columbia Gardens, are frustrated that their appeals to the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary, various provincial ministries, and the federal government have gotten them nowhere.

“People are almost coming to blows,” said Linda Green, who, with her husband Tom, owns a lovely 20-acre property set well back and above the road, where they grow organic vegetables, raise cows and pigs, and are starting to plant grapes.

“It’s bad – it’s ugly – and, if they start running through the night, it is going to get really ugly.”

Dennis Tremblay, co-owner of Columbia Gardens Reload, flatly denies many of these charges, insisting he tries to be a reasonable neighbour. The business provides important economic and environmental benefits to the area, and is located along what has been a rail corridor for more than a century, he points out.

“Station Road is a public road. It is my road and your road; it’s not just their road. There are half a dozen residents of Station Road who are opposed. But, how about all the other residents of the area?”

—-

The Nelson and Fort Shepherd Railway – connecting Nelson, the Beaver Valley and Columbia Gardens to the United States – was completed in 1893 by American financier Daniel Chase Corbin, who had a line north from Spokane to near Northport five years earlier.

The line was taken over by the Great Northern Railway in 1898, which merged with Burlington Northern in 1970 and then became Burlington Northern and Santa Fe in 1996.

The track north of Fruitvale has since been shut down, and the rest of the line through the Beaver Valley leased to International Railroad Systems, owned by Don Sandner of Christina Lake.

The Columbia Gardens portion is leased to the Kettle Falls International Railroad, a subsidiary of Denver-based OmniTrax, which also runs a line to Grand Forks.

In addition to Tremblay’s operation, there are two more reloaders in the area transferring goods on to the rail line: Westcan Bulk Transport, located on the southern edge of Station Road, which handles sulphuric acid and fertilizer from Teck, and Trimac, which transfers ore bound for the company’s Trail operations at a facility along Highway 22, on the lower bench 22A.

The railway brought settlers to Columbia Gardens, which got its name in 1905, according to Anna Reeves’ history “Tracks of the Beaver Valley and Pend d’Oreille.” Before “The Gardens” was seriously impacted by smoke from Cominco in the mid-1920s, it was the “fruit belt of the Kootenays,” according to Reeves, and also supported dairy farms and commercial gardens.

Cominco began buying land in Columbia Gardens and elsewhere in the area affected by smoke to prevent the kind of damage claims that led the International Joint Commission to award Washington dairy farmers $500,000 in 1931. The company also began a pollution abatement program in 1930 and The Gardens slowly came back to life.

—-

Although Bouma’s Farm, the last remaining dairy operation in Greater Trail, recently decided it makes more sense to grow and sell hay from its 140 acres rather than feed and milk cows, the area has great agricultural potential, say residents.

The “micro-climate” provides an extended frost-free period for raising various crops. The exposure and soil conditions have helped Columbia Gardens Vineyard and Winery become an awarding-winning operation in only a few years, and has attracted a second, larger vineyard and winery that is under construction. Some of the neighbours also grow grapes to feed the fledgling wineries.

“As a micro-climate and grape-growing area, it is second only to Oliver in terms of heat units,” said Mary Martin, a local realtor who lives on Station Road but doesn’t farm.

“This is something Trail needs: every community is trying to promote tourism-related businesses like wineries and a 100-mile garden area,” she said, referring to the burgeoning “eat local” food movement.

But the reload centre threatens their farms, their safety, and their way of life, according to residents.

The average of five tractor trailers a day that arrive with pulp from Celgar in Castlegar are far too big for Station Road, the paved portion of which is about seven metres wide and mostly has ditches in place of shoulders. Add hills and snowy winters and you have dangerous conditions, say residents, who have formed the Columbia Gardens Growers Association to press their concerns.

“This is a secondary road that isn’t built for this kind of traffic,” said Tom Green. “We have had a couple of more incidents recently where trucks have pushed cars off the road.

“Every one one of us has had near misses.”

Tom Bouma, whose farm is down the street on Columbia Gardens Road, notes that there used to be seasonal load restrictions in the area, for which he was fined for violating on a couple of occasions. But now that there is industrial traffic, these have mysteriously vanished.

The Times called the provincial Ministry of Transport on several occasions seeking an interview with someone familiar with Station Road who could explain traffic and load standards, but only got to talk to public relations officials in Victoria.

“We don’t have load restrictions on Station Road. It’s open to trucks year-round,” said spokesman Dave Crebo. “It’s a public road and it is strong enough to handle truck traffic and heavier commercial vehicles.”

MLA Katrine Conroy’s constituency office was able to gather a bit more detail in response to complaints from residents. Her assistant, Sharon Spilker, was told by the ministry that engineering reports obtained by Columbia Gardens Reload (CGR) certified that the road, and turn into it, meets safety standards, a key part of which is that trucks have to be able to stay in their own lane while negotiating.

But resident John Woolcox said this is clearly not the case, particularly along the sharp corners on Columbia Road Gardens through Bouma’s farm, at the end of Station Road.

Another engineering report concluded that the unpaved reload centre is able to meet its requirements not to track dust and mud onto the highway. Dust control is also covered by the development permit issued by the regional district, a condition that the company has at times had trouble meeting because chemical retardants have not been applied in a timely fashion, according to RDKB planner Mark Andison.

When dust coats the grape harvest, “it basically prevents photosynthesis,” said Lawrence Wallace, owner of the Columbia Garden winery, the process in which plants use light to convert carbon dioxide into the organic compounds they require.

“It is similar to powdery mildew, which is a common occurrence with grapes, but for that you can spray sulphur. With dust, you have to hope for rain.”

Station Road never used to be sanded in the winter before the heavy truck traffic began, he added.

“Now they are sanding the hell out of it. With the sand comes seeds and noxious weeds, which the government is spraying for.”

He is convinced the 200 plants he has lost along the road in the past two years are a result of the spraying, although he can’t prove it.

Customers visiting his winery regularly complain about the heavy truck traffic and how they had to pull over on the nearly-shoulderless roadway.

“The reload centre has affected me in a number of ways.”

In addition to dust, the residents have complained to the Ministry of Environment and WorkSafeBC about garbage burning at the reload centre.

“(Earlier this spring), we were working on our vines and the smoke burned our throats,” recalled Linda Green. “We could have lost our (organic) certification over something like that, and have complained to the Ministry of Environment.”

Loud noise coming from the reload centre “in the middle of the night,” as Woolcox put it, is another complaint of neighbours. Linda Green said she has been awakened as early as 5 a.m. by “screeching” noises and the “banging of coupling train cars” coming from the reload centre.

But, like many rural areas, there are few regulatory bylaws, and none covering issues such as hours of operation. The RDKB suggested some additional regulation a few years back, along with a tax for a bylaw officer to enforce, but dropped the idea after meeting a torrent of opposition.

—-

As a 30-year railway worker, Dennis Tremblay recognized the need for better access to U.S.-bound lines and established a tiny operation in 2005 to load lumber with his brother Paddy. Two years ago he expanded, building an enclosed reloading and storage facility on the rail right-of-way, which now employs two full-time and four part-time employees.

The facility handles an average of five tractor trailer trucks daily hauling packages of pulp from the Celgar mill in Castlegar, and about one truck a week of lumber, Tremblay said.

As a track man for the Kettle Valley line, he travels regularly to Grand Forks. On those trips he used to notice all the commercial traffic headed to the Boundary community.

“I saw all these trucks going back and forth. It didn’t make sense. They were going to a reload over there when there should be one here, eliminating some of that traffic.”

Celgar’s two grades of pulp is used to make a variety of paper products in faraway mills, and every load that travels by rail instead of truck reduces the carbon footprint of those products, Tremblay points out.

“That is green energy. Some of the trucks would be going to the southern U.S. You are eliminating a semi traveling 3,000 miles.”

As for all of the neighbours’ complaints, he said, “I’m trying to get along with them the best I can. We’re under a microscope on these issues. We’ve heard from every (government) ministry there is.”

Tremblay and Mike Thompson, the employee working the loading dock when the Times visited, flatly rejected any suggestion of pre-dawn noise.

“The earliest (Thompson) is here is 6:30 – never five,” Tremblay said, adding the five-day-a-week operation shuts down by 5 p.m., “and usually earlier.”

As for local truck traffic, he says that is the Ministry of Transportation’s issue to deal with but noted the complaints “are like saying the highway in downtown Fruitvale is inadequate – there is a hairpin turn there.”

His property is a sandy bank and dust is prevalent, even on a spring day.

“We put dust control on it. But there are certain times of the year when we can get the product. I have called them already… .We would consider paving it, but that is all about dollars.

“But do you think that is going to satisfy them? I wish it would.”

—-

A planning study commissioned in 1969 by the three-year-old RDKB identified Columbia Gardens as the best location for large industrial development, according to planning director Mark Andison.

Since then, land-use designations for the west side of Station Road, where the reload centre is located, have shifted back and forth between rural and industrial. The east side has remained in the provincial Agricultural Land Reserve, but pressure on the west side began to increase in the 1990s as part of the push to revive the depressed local economy with proposals for an aluminum smelter or boxboard plant that might attract related businesses, and it is now mostly zoned industrial.

The neighbours protested the latest swing back to industrial designation in 1998, but things quieted when all of the development plans fizzled. But the issue has been stirred up by the reload centre and the fact the RDKB is currently drafting a new Official Community Plan for Area A, which will guide land-use designations for the next decade.

“Ideally, we would like (the reload centre) gone, but I don’t know how realistic that is,” said Tom Green. “But it should be restricted in its growth.”

Tremblay purchased his 10 acres from the Levick family, which still owns 15 acres between the reload centre and Bouma’s Farm to the north. The neighbours want all this land designated rural residential again, which would allow the reload centre to operate but not expand and would preclude commercial and industrial development on the Levick property.

“We can’t change what has happened, but we would like to protect what’s left,” Green said.

Realtor Mary Martin said industrial uses on Station Road are “really insulting to all the work that people have done around here.

“This is a jewel that should be preserved. After 35 years, half of the industrial park (on Highway 22A) is just a dump.”

The neighbours lost the first round of their battle when the advisory committee for the new plan, on which several of them sit, narrowly voted to include a reduced number of industrial uses in the draft OCP bylaw that will be presented to the public this summer. Official public hearings are expected this fall.

Area A director Ali Grieve says the RDKB has struggled to address the needs of the rural residents and the broader community. The number of permitted uses were reduced after the reload centre went in, but each such downzoning reduces the value of the land, she noted.

“The proposal is for a further reduction of the industrial uses to recognize the agriculture on the upper bench and make it more compatible. It really isn’t fair to someone who bought property there to have it flipped back and forth so many times.

“We were in a no-win situation there and tried to do the best we could. Working with a mix of agriculture and industry is often a challenge.”

The “light industrial” uses that would be permitted on the Levick property in the draft OCP do not include an expanded reload centre. There are about two dozen permitted uses including machine shops, food processing, garden centres, animal clinics and shelters, and woodshops.

Housing is also being proposed as a permitted use in the hope that someone will buy the property next to the reload centre and move in, thus easing the concern over the vacant industrial land on Station Road.

The OCP also recognizes that the best place for reload businesses is down on the flat, completely industrial lower bench beside the much larger Trimac facility.

This winter, a number of freight cars being shunted at Tremblay’s facility ran down the hill and crashed onto Highway 22A, almost killing a Rossland resident driving by.

Residents are concerned that chemical tanker cars are backed up from the Westcan bulk plant down the road into their neighbourhood. Tremblay said these cars are empty, while an official for the railway said this likely be the case most of the time, but not necessarily all the time, given operating requirements.

Residents also worry that the rail line running north of Columbia Gardens through the Beaver Valley has not been all that well maintained and will shut down, which Tremblay agrees is likely. If that happens, they fear all of Atco Lumber’s product destined for the U.S. will be trucked into their neighbourhood.

“There should be one reload centre down below,” said Jim Green. “They are buggering up our property and there is no rail service to the industrial park.”

Tremblay said that is easy to say, “but who is going to pay for it – your tax dollars?”

He suggests that life is “all about choices” and the Station Road residents have chosen “to live next to an international railway.

“If you want to live next to an airport, don’t bitch about the planes. If we don’t use this international railway, it will be gone.”



newsroom@trailtimes.ca

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