• Rob Hornberger

Kingsville council cracks down on greenhouse light pollution

Mucci Farms' request for bylaw delay rejected

Kingsville council voted unanimously Monday in favour of a bylaw Monday limiting greenhouse light pollution.

Kingsville council passed a nuisance bylaw Monday to curb greenhouse light emission and odours — despite a request from one local greenhouse operator that the vote be delayed.

George Dekker, special projects manager for Mucci Farms, said the greenhouse sector would like more time to work with the town to make sure the bylaw is properly crafted.

“We would like to request that council defer the decision (on the bylaw) tonight so we as an industry can present comments … and have a little bit of dialogue on what we would like to see in the bylaw.”

But town council was in no mood to wait.

“What we’re saying is it will stop as of tonight in Kingsville,” said Coun. Larry Patterson. “We’ve been hammered by our residents and we totally support what our residents have asked of us.

“We’ve got some great greenhouse operators out there who this will not affect,” he said. “We have greenhouse operators out there who should start worrying.”

Council voted unanimously in favour of the bylaw.

A number of councillors said Mucci is one of the greenhouse operators which has taken concrete steps to reduce light pollution.

But Mucci Farms CEO Bert Mucci said the nuisance bylaw should have been passed long ago and said it’s unfair to ask operators to comply in the middle of the growing season.

“I’m not trying to throw anybody under the bus but we’ve seen this happen … we went through this process in Ohio and honestly, I will say that both municipalities (Kingsville and Leamington) have dropped the ball on this.

“This (was) coming down the pipeline. I’ve made this very aware to council.”

Mucci Farms owns greenhouses in Huron, Ohio, and faced similar complaints from local residents about light and glare pollution.

The city of Huron told Mucci Farms it could take the necessary steps to reduce light emissions on its own or face a moratorium on future expansion.

After Mucci dealt with the complaints, Bert Mucci said it took 30 to 50 days for the city to draft on ordinance further toughening light abatement guidelines.

“That’s how fast we had to comply with the ordinance they imposed on us. The same thing could have been done (here),” he said.

The Ohio ordinance is tough. Penalties for non-compliance call for the operator to shut off lighting until violations are corrected, revoking of zoning permits and fines of $1,000 US a day until there is compliance.

The Kingsville bylaw, while not as strict, calls for municipal enforcement officers to visit offending greenhouse operations, view the light emissions and issue tickets or warnings. They will also issue orders to comply.

As a last resort, the town could take the offender to court where a judge could impose a fine of up to $100,000.

Town CAO John Norton said enforcement of the bylaw would come at a cost: $10,000 in overtime and more in legal fees if the town took a greenhouse operator to court.

Coun. Kimberly DeYong said four greenhouse operators have been slow to curb light emissions. There are also cannabis growers who fall under federal jurisdiction and are not governed by local site plan agreements dealing with light emissions.

“The industry knows this is coming and unfortunately, because not everybody is proactive, some people need a stick instead of a carrot,” she said.

“We all live in the community … I see it. Every morning I get up and I’m like, this is not good. It’s not good for the community, it’s not good for everybody, the kids, everybody who lives here. So we need to take proper measures.”

Mucci representatives told council 20 acres of the 95 acres the company owns along Road 2 between the Graham and Kratz sideroads are not covered with blackout curtains.

Bert Mucci said blackout curtains will be installed on the remaining 20 acres by the start of the next growing season.

“The blackout curtains have been on order and (they have) not been delivered yet due to the COVID situation we are going through,” he said. “They will be installed by the next season, so by the end of March.”

Mucci said the company has spent $5.5 million in the last three years on light abatement measures.

He added Mucci Farms wants to be a good neighbour.

“We all live in the community … I see it. Every morning I get up and I’m like, this is not good. It’s not good for the community, it’s not good for everybody, the kids, everybody who lives here. So we need to take proper measures,” he said.

Mucci said his greenhouse operations need some flexibility on dark-skies compliance. He said the greenhouses need to shed 10 per cent of the light they emit to remain viable for growing crops.

“I think right now if we were at 90 per cent (light emission) compliance we would be happy to defer (the vote),” said Coun. Laura Lucier.

“But given the state of the overall industry and the issues we are seeing throughout the region I for one do not think we should be considering deferring.”

Mucci said greenhouses which control 90 per cent of their light pollution are producing no more light than a ball diamond at night.

“If we’re shutting down greenhouses, we’re shutting down parks, ball diamonds, strip malls (and) in cities where there are parking lights,” Mucci said.

Dekker also asked council to split any bylaw in two, one for light emissions, the other for odour “so each could be properly addressed with mitigation techniques for each one.”

Council declined his request.

Mayor Nelson Santos said the response from council was necessary. He said light pollution produced in Kingsville and Leamington not only affects the residents of the two municipalities but also surrounding Essex County municipalities.

He said the light pollution can also be seen from Ohio and Michigan.

Joanne Rivard, of the Kingsville Citizens’ Alliance, said the bylaw should also include smells from mushroom farms and noise from the venting and circulation fans from greenhouse cannabis farms.

“So that’s another item we’d like addressed,” she said.

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