Hoedown low down

The province's new independent farmers' advocate will have a budget of just under $250,000 in fiscal 2010/11. That post was announced in March, amidst private landowner and farmer concerns about oil and gas development. It's aim: to help members of that community understand their property rights, the potential agricultural implications of such development and negotiate with the oil and gas industry. The government hasn't said much about the yet-to-be-hired advocate since that announcement. But, according to a notice quietly posted yesterday on the province's procurement Website, the government's share of the contract cost for that office "will not exceed $116,667" during the next fiscal year. The notice also states responsibility for administering the office is being handed over the Peace River Regional District, which will fund 50 percent of its costs to a maximum of $120,000. The following is a complete copy of that notice.

December 14, 2009

Notice of Intent to Issue Contract

Notice is hereby given by the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources (MEMPR) of its intent to award a contract to the Peace River Regional District (PRRD) to administer the Office of the Farmers' Advocate. Following a PRRD Board Resolution passed in June 2009, the PRRD will contribute up to half the costs associated with the position.

The Farmers' Advocate is being established to enable rural landowners throughout northeast British Columbia to be provided access to relevant information to manage their land and agricultural assets in order to mitigate business risk and maximize future economic opportunity as it relates to interaction with the oil and gas industry. Key responsibilities for the Farmers' Advocate will be the provision of expert advice to landowners and provincial agencies, and education to improve the relationship between rural communities and the oil and gas sector in northeast British Columbia.

The Farmers' Advocate will provide direction and leadership with regard to rural landowners' interests in respect of oil and gas developments on private property. This no-fee service for rural residents is aimed at:

* Gathering and disseminating information necessary for landowners to negotiate and address their concerns.
* Working to ensure residents to achieve a full understanding of the information and promoting proactive pre-planning to protect the interests of rural landowners.
* Resolving problems by emphasizing facilitation, negotiation or mediation.
* Providing an effective, independent, "gateway" to existing regulatory, legislated and other services that address the concerns of rural land owners with oil and gas developments.

The position will liaise with the public, industry, government, agricultural sectors and other agencies to bring a professional, informed and independent perspective on sensitive and important matters in a region where oil and gas revenues and land sales represented more than $4.0 billion dollars of investment to British Columbia in 2008.

This will be a multi-year contract that will not exceed $116,667 to the end of fiscal 2010/2011.

MEMPR has chosen not to tender this contract for the following reasons:

* Representatives of the Peace River Regional District have for several years recommended that the BC provincial government create an independent Farmers' Advocate, similar to that which exists in Alberta, to provide advice to landowners in northeast British Columbia regarding their interactions with the oil and gas industry.
* The PRRD is also responsible for evaluating certain applications for non-farm use on land zoned as Agricultural Land Reserve, and has a process of engaging the agricultural sector in the region to consider the impacts on rezoning and agricultural preservation.
* Given the above, the PRRD is uniquely suited to administer the contract for a Farmers Advocate.
* The PRRD Board has approved funding up to 50% of the contract costs.

Vendors wishing to object to this decision should contact Ellen Frisch, Executive Director, Marketing and Community Relations, by email to Ellen.Frisch@gov.bc.ca no later than 2:00 pm local time on December 24, 2009, presenting specific reasons for their objection. If justified, the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources will convene a meeting of Ministry representatives and the vendors to receive a vendor representation concerning this contract. Vendor ability to offer the same level of service and knowledge at a lower cost and to meet required timelines will be the key criterion with regard to the consideration of vendor objections.

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