Greenhouses likely to challenge municipal light-pollution bylaws, industry spokesman says

Joe Sbrocchi, OGVC general manager, told Hortidaily, an industry publication, that the two municipal bylaws were “regrettable” and “ill-conceived.” He said farmers would have no choice but to challenge the bylaws in court or make an appeal before an Ontario Ministry of Food and Rural Affairs tribunal.

In an interview with the Observer, Sbrocchi stuck by his comments and said any decision to challenge the bylaw, either in court or before a tribunal, would be done by the individual farmer.

So far, no charges or fines have been levied in either municipality.

The Town of Kingsville issued a news release last week praising the industry for its willingness to comply with the bylaw.

“They’ve significantly responded with some actions,” said Mayor Nelson Santos. “They’re really responded positively.”

The Kingsville bylaw, which went into effect Jan. 1, calls for municipal enforcement officers to visit greenhouses after a complaint, view the light emissions and issue tickets or warnings. Orders to comply would also be issued. As a last resort the town could take the offender to court where a judge could impose fines of up to $100,000.

Santos said the town is prepared to bend on enforcement if growers can present plans, produce receipts for the purchase of blackout curtains and outline timeframes for installation.

“These greenhouse operators will not be subject to fines under the bylaw provided their plans remain intact and on track with what was presented,” the Kingsville news release said.

The Kingsville bylaw says 90 per cent of light produced by a greenhouse must be contained.

Sbrocchi said the industry wants more flexibility on when they vent moisture and heat to prevent damage to plants. It also wants flexibility on the amount of light released. He said the industry initially asked for 75 per cent containment, but is prepared to accept 85 per cent. The OGVG general manager said the spring and fall when temperatures fluctuate is the time when venting is most needed.

The Leamington bylaw sets out times when the lights must be shut off and allows operators to open the screens and vent moisture and heat between 2 and 6 a.m.

Sbrocchi said the industry realizes light abatement has become a political issue. He said technological strides are being made, but 100 per cent light abatement is not currently achievable, especially with older greenhouses which face their own set of difficulties in terms of retrofitting.

“We were coming this way anyway and quite frankly, COVID probably hindered it considerably. We were getting there, but not at 100 per cent.”

Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald said her council is in no mood to alter its bylaw.

“To come and complain now after we’ve written the bylaw and it’s passed by council, we’re not having these discussions if they can’t get a member of council to ask for reconsideration and I don’t think that going to happen,” she said.

Kingsville CAO John Norton said a legal challenge was expected.

“No that’s not a surprise,” he said. “I’ve spoken with people who have told me at various times that they think the bylaw is illegal and they may challenge it. The bottom line is it hasn’t been challenged.”

Norton, who is a lawyer, said he was confident the bylaw would hold up in court.

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