The blasts of propane cannons on berry farms will continue as usual this summer, as council again could not find consensus on new regulations for the controversial devices.
A proposed bylaw to largely limit the use of propane cannons in Abbotsford was denied provincial approval last month, and on Monday, council couldn’t find internal agreement on a less stringent set of rules.
Last year, council struggled to settle on an appropriate bylaw to regulate the audible bird scare devices, ending on a split vote for both a strict set of regulations and a revised and less severe set of rules.
The city eventually decided to send the more strident version of the bylaw to the province for approval, which aimed to shorten hours of use, lessen the number of shots allowed per hour, increase the distance between the devices and neighbouring homes, kennels and livestock, and levy fees for cannon use and fines for improper use.
The use of propane cannons to scare birds from crops is protected by the provincial Right to Farm Act. Guidelines are set by the province. To further regulate cannons, the city must create a “farm bylaw” that requires approval from the ministry of agriculture.
On June 13, city staff received an email from the ministry, advising it would not approve the bylaw.
The province said the regulations dictated in the bylaw would effectively serve as a ban on cannon use in Abbotsford and suggested lessening the restrictions while allowing the city to impose fines for not following the regulations.
Coun. John Smith said that to accept the loosened regulations would be to accept downloading from the provincial government, by effectively making city bylaw staff take on the province’s duty to enforce the current guidelines.
Coun. Bill MacGregor read a letter from an Abbotsford resident to council, explaining that the issue is not simply with farmers who disobey the regulations, but with any use of propane cannons. MacGregor said that frustrations are growing among rural residents, and the blueberry industry must make efforts to educate and implement changes.
Though she said she would like to see greater restrictions in the future, Coun. Patricia Ross urged council to pass the bylaw. She said the city would still receive complaints despite the bylaw and then council would be in a better position to call for a total ban on propane cannons.
Coun. Moe Gill voted against implementing the loosened regulations, saying he disagreed with the burden it would put on farmers, as the bylaw included fees such as a $125 annual levy to use the cannons.
A tie vote defeated the proposed regulations, with Couns. Smith, Gill, MacGregor and Les Barkman voting against the bylaw and Couns. Ross, Dave Loewen, Henry Braun and Mayor Bruce Banman in favour.
Council called on staff to report on efforts to start a regional starling management program, to lessen the impact of the invasive bird species on crops.
The Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce expressed disappointment over council’s decision.
Allan Asaph, chamber executive director, said in a news release that the chamber had spoken against the original bylaw, which would have effectively banned the cannons, in favour of a bylaw with reasonable limits that would “allow for enforcement to deal with the few chronic abusers.”
Asaph said that it is unfortunate that while communities such as Langley Township have adopted bylaws to mitigate concerns, Abbotsford has not been able to implement its own rules.
The new Langley law allows one firing every five minutes for a single cannon and no more than 33 shots an hour when more than one cannon is being fired by a berry farm. Escalating fines for violating the rules are set at $150 for the first offence, $350 for a second and $500 for a third and any subsequent offence. Farmers are also required to get a $125 licence each year to use the cannons.
The email from the province advises Abbotsford that Langley’s bylaw is largely consistent with the ministry’s model noise bylaw and “it appears to be working well.”