• Rob Hornberger

UPDATED: Stop light-pollution blame game, Leamington mayor says

Kingsville councillors seek stronger greenhouse abatement measures

Light from greenhouses in Kingsville and Leamington illuminate the night sky in this view from the Hallam Observatory near Staples. According to the Royal Canadian Astronomical Society, the light is visible in Michigan and Ohio.

Leamington and Kingsville need to work together and stop "finger pointing" over efforts to reduce light pollution from local greenhouses, says Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald.

MacDonald said she was disappointed by a Kingsville councillor's suggestion that Leamington isn't doing enough to deal with the problem.

"Guess what, I live near the Kingsville border, I live right by the town line. I can tell you it’s not black coming from Kingsville. I get the smell (from a cannabis operation), it comes from the southwest wind that comes across my yard and it sure as heck isn’t coming from Leamington."

She said the finger pointing has to stop.

"We need to be working on this together, rather than finger pointing. I was very disappointed when I heard about that comment.

"That’s not fair at all," MacDonald said.

She said a report is coming before Leamington council soon that will deal with light abatement measures.

"It's not an easy task. You have to balance between what’s viable for the industry, but also you have to balance what is acceptable to the community. For council we have to weigh that out carefully to make sure we are being fair and equitable," MacDonald said.

Kingsville Coun. Thomas Neufeld said the town has been active in trying to curb greenhouse light pollution but suffers a spill-over effect from its neighbour.

“The town of Kingsville has a very proactive approach when it comes to greenhouse development, cannabis and everything that happens with that, the odour and the lights,” he said.

Neufeld said it would be “beneficial” if Leamington took the same tack.

Neufeld and other Kingsville councillors say they are becoming impatient with greenhouse operators who are not complying with regulations designed to prevent the night skies over the town becoming the southern version of the Northern Lights.

At a town council meeting in May, manager of planning services Robert Brown gave a report on what the town is doing with site plan controls and other measures to ensure greenhouse operators comply with municipal policies to keep the night skies dark.

Over the past year, four inspections were done — in November, December, January and again in March.

In the final inspection, six properties were found non-compliant, three of which were cannabis operations regulated by the province and federal government.

Brown said he was optimistic the town would achieve total compliance by the end of the year.

Some councillors were skeptical.

“I’m not so optimistic as you are,” Coun. Kimberly DeYong told Brown. “I don’t think site plan is an effective means of control. We hope (growers) take it seriously, we have no way of … making sure.”

She said a nuisance bylaw may be the way to go.

She said such a bylaw would broaden the scope of enforcement to include cannabis growers regulated by higher levels of government and those greenhouse operations not governed by a site plan agreement.

“This seems to be the only way we can enforce anything,” she said.

Brown said such a bylaw would take time to draft and implement. He said there are questions about the enforceability of a retroactive bylaw. He noted nuisance bylaws in other municipalities often exempt farm operations.

“They … don’t have greenhouses to deal with, so this is obviously going to be a made-in-Kingsville solution,” he said.

During the May council meeting, Deputy Mayor Gord Queen raised the issue of the town intervening with non-compliant growers, doing the work — like installing curtains — to ensure compliance, then billing the greenhouse operation.

Such a drastic move is allowed under some site plan agreements signed with greenhouse operators.

“That is a last resort,” Neufeld said.

But Neufeld was adamant: the town needs a nuisance bylaw to deal with tardy greenhouse operators.

“The nuisance bylaw is a good idea and I actually agree with Robert Brown that it’s going to be difficult to go back retroactively.

In his report, Brown said the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG) is working on new light abatement guidelines.

Justine Taylor, science and government relations manager for OGVG, said the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFA) is ultimately responsible for any regulations governing light pollution and abatement.

OMAFRA "oversees any regulations as far as normal farm practice," she said. Taylor said the ministry is currently doing "research as to what constitutes a normal farm practice in terms of lighting."

Starr Livingstone, of the Windsor chapter of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, said the two towns and growers need to take steps, and soon.

Starr Livingstone

Local light pollution has increased “exponentially” over the years and can now be viewed from as far away as Ohio and Michigan, he said.

“I had an email from a teacher from St. Clair Shores (in Michigan) and the students were asking what that light was on the horizon … it was the greenhouses,” he said.

Livingstone, who has given a presentation on light pollution to Kingsville council, said the area is in danger of losing something precious.

“People are not in tune with the sky, they don’t know where they are in the universe. There’s a connection, when you know where you are in the universe and how it connects to everything else, it opens your mind at little bit, you are not so concerned about self, ‘what about me,’” he said.

Livingstone said light pollution also effects bird and butterfly migrations and can cause sleep deprivation in humans.

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