The “toxic” smell at Abbotsford’s King Traditional Elementary School has gone on for over a year-and-a-half in large part due to confusion of jurisdiction.
Shannon Gaudette, whose children attend the school situated deep in the southwestern agricultural area of Abbotsford near Aldergrove, said the smell was so bad her husband “gagged, almost threw up as soon as he got out of the vehicle” when dropping their kids off recently.
“My parents had a farm for 20 years, so I know the smells of farms … It’s just a smell that I’ve never experienced before. And it’s just toxic. You feel gross, you get a headache and you feel sick to your stomach,” Gaudette said. “It’s so bad. I just feel for the teachers, I feel for the kids, parents that spend a lot of time here.”
In fact, WorkSafeBC has even been called to the area to respond to complaints that the smell is causing headaches, nausea and sore throats.
At the centre of the issue is a property across Bradner Road from the school, which the Abbotsford School District called an “unauthorized composting operation.” But the City of Abbotsford says there’s no compost facility currently on the property.
In Tuesday evening’s school board meeting, trustee Korky Neufeld said city bylaw should be severing the business licence until it is in compliance with provincial regulations.
“Many times the city infringes on all kinds of business rights, personal rights, individual homeowner rights,” Neufeld said. “I deal with it all the time in business. They’ll call enforcement up to me all the time of the day.”
But the City of Abbotsford says the property is regulated by the Agriculture Land Commission.
“The property at 1582 Bradner Road is located within the Agriculture Land Reserve (ALR) and zoned for agricultural use. There is no composting facility currently located on the property,” city spokesperson Alex Mitchell said in a statement. “The farm’s storage of poultry manure is a permitted use under the Agriculture Land Reserve’s ‘farm use’ regulations.”
Abbotsford School District secretary-treasurer Ray Velestuk told the school board it’s still not clear whether regulation of the business lies with the environment or agriculture ministry.
“We continue to work with the Ministry of Environment. It’s really complicated between Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Agriculture, whether this is an agricultural operation or it’s not an agricultural operation, whether it requires waste discharge permits or not,” Velestuk said.
“So there’s a number of complications. My understanding is that the Ministry of Environment is doing some additional work and additional due diligence on their part to follow up with some of our concerns.”
In an email statement, the Environment Ministry said compliance staff “have been made aware of the situation.”
“Reports have been received by the Ministry from multiple sources of a property being used to blend poultry manure from several sources. Ministry staff are following up on this issue including determining if an authorization is needed for the activities on the site.”