Stiff penalties unable to deter Surrey’s soil struggles

Metro Vancouver wants to take proactive measures to stop builders from dumping construction debris on clean farmland.

But, taking Surrey as an example, it’s easier said than done. Even stiff fines aren’t enough to stop the practice of illegal dumping in a region where construction is a major economic activity and builders are looking for ways to avoid expensive fees at the landfill.

Photo via

Photo via

I attended a Metro Vancouver meeting a few weeks ago on Feb. 7, where the regional planning and agricultural committee voted to endorse resolutions for member municipalities to take proactive measures to stop illegal soil fill on agricultural land. Member municipalities will be asked to require a soil deposition plan for construction projects before development permits are provided, and to ensure that the penalties for breaking the bylaws are stiff enough to act as a deterrent for illegal dumping.

During the meeting Surrey councillor Linda Hepner, who sits on the committee, said Surrey has taken a hard stance to prevent illegal filling: the penalty is a $10,000 fine and up to 6 months in prison (see bylaw here). However, this has not always been able to prevent soil fill. As an example, Hepner said it cost the city $80,000 to recently remove illegal fill from a dike in the city.

I spoke to Coun. Hepner after the meeting, and she explained that the penalty has been hard to enforce because of the of the large size of Surrey’s agricultural land.

“They find an open spot, and they say, ‘this would be a good place to dump,’ and they dump it, and you just don’t find it,” she told me. “We don’t light up farmland. It’s easy to find in the dark.”

Despite the struggles to enforce the bylaw in Surrey, Metro Vancouver has recognized Surrey, Richmond, and Delta as municipalities that other members of Metro Vancouver could follow.

Read the City of Surrey’s soil conservation and protection bylaw below:


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