01/22/2013 09:26 EST | Updated 03/24/2013 05:12 EDT

Richmond farm dispute heads to city hall

A group of upset farmers packed a committee room at Richmond city hall Monday night seeking to stop the dumping of asphalt and concrete at a local farm.

“We want the dumping stopped and all the toxic material removed,” farmer Ray Galawan said to applause from the packed room.

Galawan has been leading the protest at Finn Road, where asphalt and concrete are being dumped.

The property’s owners say they’re using the material to build a road on the site for a new tree farm business, and maintain it meets provincial standards.

But Galawan argues it could ruin the land he grows food on.

“This is toxic. This is full of petroleum products,” he said.

“It leeches into the soil, it leaches into the water table, it leaches into our drainage sloughs that run through Richmond, right into the south arm of the Fraser River.”

'An abomination of the democratic process'

Over the weekend, the province issued an order to stop the dumping. While the protesters celebrated, local landowner Roland Hoegler expressed shock.

“I think this is an abomination of the democratic process where these mobs are making accusations against people that are doing things lawfully,” he said.

“I think what we're seeing is cowardly bureaucrats, politics capitulating to the mob mentality.”

The City of Richmond is now seeking more control over its Agricultural Land Reserve. It aims to beef up the permit process, charge more fees for adding or removing soil and be more vigilant when it comes to what's happening on local farms.

But in order to do that, the city needs to wrest power from the provincial Agricultural Land Commission, which is responsible for regulating what happens on land earmarked for growing food.

“Don't get me wrong, they do a great job, but they're very constrained by finances,” said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie.

“They do not have the resources and sometime when you have fill activity it has to be aggressively addressed. It has to be right now. You can't wait for a long time.”

Recommendations to strengthen Richmond's soil by-laws will go to council on next week.

In the meantime, protesters plan to be back on Finn Road to make sure a clean up there begins.