Pemberton top soil operation raises environmental concerns 

While evidence is inconclusive, farmer worries about threat to community’s bio-safety

The verdict is still out on whether Terrane Development’s topsoil operation contravenes zoning bylaws.

At the end of February, Mount Currie Band (MCB) council, represented by Councillor Martina Pierre, approached the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District to enact an injunction against the company. At that meeting, the SLRD board moved to postpone the decision for a month to allow for additional fact gathering. The SLRD is still in the process of finishing the report.

The MCB’s position is that Terrane is in contravention of the zoning and that the facility’s practice of mixing in chicken manure with soil is creating a health and safety issue for the residents of Mount Currie. The company is located in the Pemberton industrial park, a property adjacent to the Mount Currie boundary. Both Pierre and band administrator Sheldon Tetreault maintain that the smell emanating from the chicken manure pile is unacceptable and that the potential for run-off water contamination is a concern.

Terrane Development president Cam McIvor submitted a report claiming that the situation had been ameliorated and attesting to the safety of the company’s practice. Supporting documentation from outside sources was also provided. Along with the report, a letter was included in which McIvor alleged that an underlying issue in the dispute concerned an expired option that the MCB had to purchase the land that Terrane occupies. When the option expired, Terrane bought the property and proceeded to mine the rock quarry with the intent of one-day creating a 70-home subdivision on the cleared properties.

Tetrault acknowledges that the MCB has had a history with McIvor, but stresses that this is a separate issue unrelated to land or business dealings.

"I want to make this really clear that this is not about personalities," he said. "From our perspective it’s not about the business owner, for us it’s a community quality of life issue."

Tetreault says that all the band is asking for is that the SLRD enforce its bylaw that does not allow for this type of business.

"This has been going on for a year and a half and we have engaged the business owner to try to resolve it and we still haven’t come to a meaningful resolution and we’re heading into the next soil season.

"We’re still engaged with the owner to buy the entire property and I can’t judge that outcome."

Tetreault points out the band is always interested in buying adjacent land, but it’s dependent upon fair value of the land.

"The quarry is the reason we want to buy the property, we don’t want to see it blasted out. The soil business is independent of that. It’s a business operating on the same property and it’s offensive.

"I spoke to Jordan (Mayor Sturdy) and he pointed out this is an agricultural valley and there’s always going to be smell. We’re not trying to regulate existing farms, but what this is is an industrial production and they truck in chicken manure from another valley, from a commercial/industrial operation," said Tetreault.

Cattle farmer and teaching assistant Brenda McLeod’s concern isn’t smell, but the community’s safety.

"I think it’s unfortunate Terrane didn’t think this would be an issue. It makes sense to think that manure is a healthy thing – it puts nutrients back in the earth," says McLeod.

What scares McLeod is what manure might be putting back into the earth in terms of "anti-microbial bacteria", pathogens also know as "antibiotic-resistant bacteria" or "super bugs".

She worries that importing chicken manure from the Fraser Valley represents a possible risk to Pemberton’s bio-security. According to a December, 2002 edition of Consumer Reports , nearly half of all factory chickens were found to have bacteria that was resistant to human antibiotics.

A proponent of natural, small-scale farming, McLeod, who has followed such agricultural disasters as the spread of BSE (mad cow disease) in Europe and 2002 hoof and mouth disease breakout, was alarmed when she first heard that the manure was being transported from the Fraser Valley.

"All we need is one little micro-organism to get loose. They love nice warm, damp environments like we have in Pemberton."

Corresponding with scientists from as far away as John Hopkins, McLeod says she has been unable to find conclusive information on the safety – or risk – of chicken manure derived fromm factory farming sources. However, an article by Canadian bio-security expert Peter Stoett that appeared in the February issue of Policy Options calls bio-security the next "public policy imperative". In the piece, Stoett examines 2004’s, outbreak of avian flu on 42 Fraser Valley farms that resulted in the slaughter of 19 million birds. The piece also looks at the impact of cross-geographical contamination from the proliferation of the European zebra mussels in the St. Lawrence Seaway to the global spread of BSE.

While McLeod is taking her concerns to organizations such as the Pemberton Farmers Institute and the Ministry of Agriculture, what she really wants to see is a community dialogue on the subject.

"If we’re respectful of practices, there won’t be any problems," said a hopeful McLeod. "We need good practices and risk management."

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