Shelly Balme looks out at her pasture full of dairy cattle in 2011. (Citizen file)

Shelly Balme looks out at her pasture full of dairy cattle in 2011. (Citizen file)

Cobble Hill’s Balme Ayr Farm wins soil extraction case

BC Supreme Court decision clears the way for controversial project to proceed

Gravel extraction will soon begin at Cobble Hill’s Balme Ayr Farms after a ruling by the Supreme Court of B.C. this week.

Farm owners Shelly and Oliver Balme are planning to extract gravel from about 45 acres of their property, and replace it with a good-quality soil to permit forage production.

It’s a plan the couple developed more than six years ago, but the long bureaucratic permit process and legal wrangles with neighbours in the rural area created many delays.

The Supreme Court ruled on a case between Talia McKenzie, a neighbour of the large dairy farm, and the Agricultural Land Commission and the Cowichan Valley Regional District.

McKenzie wanted the court to quash the CVRD and the ALC’s decisions related to the project, but the court decided that the district and the commission acted appropriately.

McKenzie couldn’t be reached for comment.

Shelly Balme said the case was the last hurdle the couple had to deal with, and now they are preparing to proceed with the project.

She said all the required permits are now in place, and work will begin “in the near future.”

“We feel vindicated,” Balme said.

“Several levels of government have been saying for some time that we are within our legal rights with this project. In the end, this court case was a big waste of time and money, especially for taxpayers.”

The CVRD had, in fact, recommended to the ALC that the application for the project be denied, but the Cowichan Agricultural Society and Farmers’ Institute supported it and the ALC gave it a green light to proceed.

Balme said the opposition to the project is mainly emotional, but the facts are that it will have little impact on the area.

She said that while gravel is being extracted, it will be replaced with agriculture-quality fill.

“It’s the only thing that our permits will allow us to use for land reclamation at the site,” Balme said.

“Besides, why would we do anything here that could be harmful to our dairy farm, which has 250 cows?”