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Blueberry cannon bylaw pursued

Dr. Barbara Fischer wears hearing protection when she’s outside on her Lefeuvre Road property due to the blasting of a neighbouring farm’s propane cannons. - Neil Corbett
Dr. Barbara Fischer wears hearing protection when she’s outside on her Lefeuvre Road property due to the blasting of a neighbouring farm’s propane cannons.
— image credit: Neil Corbett

Abbotsford will become the latest municipality in the Lower Mainland to have a bylaw regulating the use of blueberry cannons, if Coun. John Smith has his way.

“I have experienced the situation of the complainants, and it’s intolerable,” said the veteran municipal politician, noting that council has received numerous complaints this year about the noisy bird scare devices.

Dr. Barbara Fischer walks her Lefeuvre Road property wearing hearing protection because her neighbour has no less than five cannons that have been blasting as often as 165 times per hour this summer.

The propane cannons automatically rotate, and Fischer said when they “shoot” their noise directly in her direction, it can leave her ears ringing.

She raises horses, and one young horse was spooked by a cannon, threw her into a fence, knocked her down and stepped on her.

She has dealt with the Blueberry Council’s grower liaison officer, but found they had no “teeth” in their enforcement.

Another neighbour of the same farm, Diane Danvers, said she could not believe the noise level was allowable when she first heard the cannons at her house. They had it measured at 92.5 decibels, which is within the acceptable range, she said. For comparison, a train whistle is 90 decibels at 500 feet, and a jackhammer is 95 decibels at 50 feet.

“It’s enough to make you jump – and no, you don’t get used to it,” Danvers said. “If you were on shift work, I don’t know what you would do.”

Both Danvers and Fischer have lived on their properties for some three decades, and can’t be considered “city folk” who are inconvenienced by normal agricultural smells, sounds or practices.

“There has never been anything, in the 30 years we’ve been here, that we’ve complained about,” said Danvers.

Their stories are familiar to Smith.

“There are all sorts of situations where people’s lives are being made hell,” he said.

“I support farmers, but these cannons are so totally intrusive ... it’s unacceptable.”

Smith was intending to serve his fellow councillors with a notice of motion at Monday night’s council meeting. He said the city will work with the agriculture ministry on the regulation, and research bylaws that have already been drafted by Surrey, Delta and Pitt Meadows.

Smith would like to see the starting time for cannons moved from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., and the evening deadline moved from 8 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.  Cannons are already shut off for an afternoon break between noon and 3 p.m. He would also like to see cannon setbacks extended from the current guideline of 200 meters to 300. And, he is suggesting “tough” fines for non-compliance – $1,000 for the first offence and $2,000 thereafter.

Ministry of agriculture berry specialist Mark Sweeney, who works in Abbotsford, said the ministry approaches this issue as one that demands compromise.

He said blueberries generate $150 million in farm gate sales in the Lower Mainland, and more revenue in packing and processing – much of it done in Abbotsford. It’s a healthy industry, with room for growth, he said.

But already an estimated 10 per cent of the crop is consumed by birds. A large flock of starlings can devastate a blueberry field.

“Birds are a serious problem,” he said. “Farmers need the tools to protect their crop.

“The question is what’s reasonable – the (ministry) guidelines represent a compromise."

The ministry acknowledges it is appropriate for local governments to fine violators, and notes that situations where producers don’t respond to neighbours with legitimate complaints are rare.

He said if Abbotsford’s bylaw sets limits that are different from government guidelines, the ministry would want to have consultation.

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