• Rob Hornberger

Leamington council delays vote on greenhouse-light bylaw

Mayor says town needs more input from residents, industry

Leamington's proposed bylaw calls for a complete blackout of greenhouse lights.

LEAMINGTON — Leamington council decided Tuesday it needs more feedback from residents and the greenhouse industry before it passes a proposed bylaw restricting light pollution.

The proposed bylaw is tougher than the one passed Monday by Kingsville council and demands shutting off grow lights if compliance is not met.

Kingsville council passed a nuisance bylaw Monday which allows town staff to inspect for infractions, give warnings, levy fines and as a last resort take non-compliant growers to court.

The Leamington bylaw calls for zero emissions of light, a standard a spokesperson for the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG) said may be difficult to attain.

Justine Taylor, OGVG science and government relations manager, said heat levels in greenhouses during the fall and winter require curtains to be opened to allow the venting of excess heat.

“We have yet to find a technical solution that allows for 100 per cent light abatement,” she said.

“We have come close, but during the winter and fall months there are times when it’s too warm outside … and the farmer risks losing his crop due to excess heat.”

She said OGVG supports a phased approach to gain compliance, one that sets targets and encourages innovation while targeting recalcitrant growers.

“We are working hard to address this problem and hope the municipality will work with us to find solutions that work for everyone,” she said.

Taylor estimated it would cost $50,000 an acre to retrofit a greenhouse with curtains to curb light emissions.

The proposed bylaw also stipulates the hours when light abatement should take place — from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.— and there was discussion by council whether those hours should be condensed.

“I feel our staff has done a really good job in designing this bylaw,” Mayor Hilda MacDonald said in interview prior to the meeting.

“I do think it has to have some teeth to it because a bylaw without teeth is ineffectual and a waste of time and energy.”

MacDonald said town staff met with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and Agriculture Canada before drafting the proposed bylaw.

MacDonald took exception to comments made by Mucci Farms CEO Bert Mucci who said Kingsville and Leamington had “dropped the ball” by not passing light abatement bylaws earlier.

“That’s like a speeder blaming the police for stopping him and saying you should have caught me earlier,” she said.

“To put forward a bylaw that isn’t based on fact will only end up in the courts or an appeal board. I don’t want to see that. I’d like us to get all the information.”

MacDonald told council that waiting to gather more information from residents and growers was the prudent course and not a deferral.

“To put forward a bylaw that isn’t based on fact will only end up in the courts or an appeal board. I don’t want to see that. I’d like us to get all the information.”

She said the town also needs to hear from cannabis and flower growers and expressed disappointment representatives from those sectors didn’t attend the council meeting.

Ruth Orton, Leamington’s director of legal and legislative services, told council the difference between Kingsville's regulations and Leamington’s proposed bylaw is two-fold.

“I do know that the bylaw that was presented in Kingsville has similar provisions, the provisions in Leamington identify that the curtains are to be 100 per cent blackout and identify the times that they are required to be drawn or completely closed.

“My concern for our (enforcement) officers is they know exactly what they are looking for,” Orton said.

In a subsequent interview, MacDonald said council will vote on the bylaw the end of next month.

She said the delay was necessary given the high probability of court challenges.

“We have to be 100 per cent (sure) coming down the pike. We don’t want to spend money in court.”

Dark sky preserve under threat, council told

Starr Livingstone, from the Windsor chapter of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canadian (RASC) also spoke before council Tuesday and called the light pollution over Leamington and Kingsville “outrageous.”

He said the light has become so pervasive it may affect Point Pelee National Park, Leamington’s biggest tourism asset, and its status as a dark sky preserve.

“If (light pollution) is allowed to go on the way it is, it will soon destroy all that,” said Livingstone, who has also spoken before Kingsville council.

“There won’t be any dark skies preserve and it’s going to affect bird and butterfly migrations.”

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