Deadline nears for complaints about hog farm

I pitched this story about potential intensive livestock operation opening in Cumberland to the Citizen, which published it in the City section on Dec. 17, 2001.

Deadline nears for complaints about hog farm

Residents of Cumberland Ward have just a few more days to make the city aware of their views on intensive livestock operations in their area.

City planners are now deciding whether a Quebec resident will be able to expand a hog breeding operation to the size he wants on a former dairy farm near Sarsfield.

Luc Fontaine, a soybean and corn farmer from St.-Marc-sur-Richelieu, eventually wants to house 2,800 breeding sows on the Lafleur Road farm.

Jean-Guy Bisson, a City of Ottawa planner, says Mr. Fontaine can legally have 1,090 sows on the site immediately. Whether he will be able to increase that number depends on the outcome of a review of the environmental impact. It is anticipated that the review will be completed by Sept. 2002, when an interim bylaw prohibiting new and intensive farming operations and the expansion of present ones in Cumberland expires. The deadline for receiving residents’ comments is Dec. 21.

Mr. Fontaine proposes to breed prigs and ship them to Quebec for sale when they are weaned at 14 days. Sarsfield residents say a breeding farm brings nothing to the area but pile of manure and the resulting pollution concerns. More than 700 people signed a petition against the farm, and about 175 turned up for an information meeting hosted by Cumberland Councillor Phil McNeely at the Navan Arena on Dec. 3.

Mr. McNeely makes no secret of where he stands on the issue. “My immediate reaction  was, ‘what about the ground water’?” he said. “There are no regulations in effect and Sarsfield is being told that nothing can be done. That is not acceptable.”

He is concerned that the city is not moving quickly enough to put controls in place to govern intensive livestock farming.

“The new owners have requested 2,800 pigs be permitted. I don’t see anything the city is doing that will stop them at 1,090 pigs,” he said.

Mr. Fontaine, the owner of a dairy farm in Hawkesbury, in addition to his Quebec property northeast of Montreal, says he bought a farm in Sarsfield to diversify his operation and provide a future for his sons. While the farmer stresses he chose to locate in Ontario for business reasons, he also said Quebec has the second most rigid environmental rules in the world for pig farms.

While that statement may be an exaggeration, Quebec is certainly stricter than its neighbor.

“Quebec is more advanced in their agricultural environmental laws than Ontario” says Hugh Maynard of the Quebec Farmers Association.

He said Quebec has banned expansion of hog farming in 167 municipalities because of high phosphorous levels in the soil.

A Quebec Ministry of Environment spokesperson said in those areas not covered by the ban, anyone wishing to open a new pig farm or expand and existing one must apply to the province and meet strict guidelines. In addition, Quebec has a nutrient management act that governs the disposal of manure.

Area farmer Glyn Chancey, who once raised hogs in Quebec, fears these tough regulations are encouraging Quebec farmers to look this way to open intensive livestock operations.

“The single, largest untapped area of farmland near Quebec is in Eastern Ontario,” he told residents at the Dec. 3 meeting.

Other residents says the operation Mr. Fontaine proposes is not really a farm, but a factory, and would be more appropriately located in an industrial park, where rules and regulations could be established to govern it.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s proposed nutrient management act, Bill 81, did not pass the legislature before the Christmas recess. As the legislature will not sit again until April, it will be spring at the earliest before it is enacted. The ministry says the act will address concerns about disposal of manure from large-scale farming operations.

However, Don Mills of the Sierra Club of Canada says it will be too little, too late.

“It is unclear who will be responsible for the enforcement of the regulations . . . and extensive environmental assessments of proposed intensive livestock operations must be expressed in the legislations,” he says.

Mr. Mills is also concerned that the act as proposed would remove the authority for municipalities to set their own standards.

“As written, the act would allow the provincial legislation to nullify any municipal bylaws that deal with the same subject matter,” he says.

Residents interested in commenting are invited to e-mail Jean-Guy.Bisson@city.ottawa.on.ca

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