• Rob Hornberger

Leamington bylaw restricts greenhouse light pollution

Fearing lawsuits, town councillors

settle for 90 per cent abatement

Beginning Jan. 1, greenhouse owners will have to comply with restrictions on late night and early morning light pollution under a bylaw passed by Leamington council.

LEAMINGTON — Leamington council passed a light abatement bylaw Tuesday, but stopped short of an earlier proposal calling on greenhouse operators to achieve 100 per cent light containment.

The new bylaw calls for 90 per cent abatement, a move that came after the town received legal advice stating it may have difficulty defending a court challenge to any regulation calling for a total control of light emissions.

Council also looked at the situation in Ohio and the Netherlands, considered the world leader in greenhouse technology, where 90 per cent light abatement is considered the highest achievable measure of control.

The Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG) told council again Tuesday that association members would have trouble meeting the 100 per cent standard.

Instead of lights being shut off between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. as originally proposed, as an interim measure, effective Jan. 1, lights will be required to be shut off between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. By April 1, side and end curtains must be shut one hour before dusk and one hour after dawn. By October 1, the same guidelines will apply to roof curtains. Greenhouse operators can open blackout curtains to vent excess heat between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., but must still maintain 90 per cent light containment.

Town council passed the bylaw after receiving 1,300 submissions from local residents, almost all demanding aggressive curbs on the light pollution created by greenhouses.

Mayor Hilda MacDonald again took exception to comments made by Mucci Farms CEO Bert Mucci, who said in October that Kingsville and Leamington had dropped the ball by not passing light abatement bylaws earlier.

"Maybe we should have moved quicker, but I was hoping the industry could regulate itself, that it would listen to the outcry from the public and the lights would go out.”

“When that shot came across the bow that we had dropped the ball, I took that personally because I felt we were doing our due diligence. Maybe we should have moved quicker, but I was hoping the industry could regulate itself, that it would listen to the outcry from the public and the lights would go out.”

MacDonald said the changes were made to strengthen the town’s position against lawsuits, which she felt were inevitable.

Coun. Bill Dunn pressed for 100 per cent light abatement, but MacDonald said greenhouse operators need to open the curtains to vent excess heat and humidity.

“That is our problem because we’re afraid we won’t be able to defend that (in court),” she said.

Coun. Paul Tiessen said the bylaw needs to be reviewed on an ongoing basis given changing technology.

“I hope we continue to review this bylaw, review annually at the very least … and as technology improves hopefully we get (to 100 per cent light abatement),” he said.

Ruth Orton, director of legal and legislative affairs, said the town is prepared to be flexible on deadlines if a greenhouse operator has shown concrete steps have been taken to comply with the bylaw.

Town council received submissions from Point Pelee National Park, a dark skies preserve, the Essex County Field Naturalists and a local astronomer, all pressing for stricter light abatement measures.

Kingsville passed its light abatement bylaw in October.

The Kingsville bylaw 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, Kingsville could take the offender to court where a judge could impose a fine of up to $100,000.

In Leamington, greenhouse operation could face a fine of $1,000 for each day it is in non-compliance.

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