A packed house at Coldstream council listens as David Geen (right)

Coldstream makes noise over farming

Despite touting itself as an agricultural community, Coldstream is making its concerns over a local farm known loud and clear.

Despite touting itself as an agricultural community, Coldstream is making its concerns over a local farm known loud and clear.

Approximately 20 people filled Coldstream council chambers Monday night, many there to air their Lavington noise complaints. The two main sources of disturbance are Pinnacle Pellet (an industrial operation) and Coral Beach Farms (cherry orchards on Buchanan and Warren roads).

The largest complaints regarding the orchard are the use of helicopters and large wind turbine dryers on crops.

“It’s not a little annoyance, it’s gross,” said resident Bob Learmonth. “You (council) have to do something.”

Speaking on behalf of Lavington LIFE, as well as from his own “painful lack of sleep,” Tom Coape-Arnold suggests Coldstream pass a policy on noise similar to what Richmond has done to ensure best available practices are used.

But the Right to Farm Act prevents communities from restricting farm noise, which is what Coldstream is struggling with as it examines its noise regulation bylaw.

“You’re still stuck with the provincial government telling you what you can and cannot do,” said Coun. Richard Enns. “So any bylaws we would be putting out there we would still be confronted with that problem.”

The “perpetrator,” as he called himself, following the besiege from residents and council, David Geen, owner of Coral Beach Farms, defends his practices and the necessity to protect his crops, at all hours.

“Until such time as weather, insects and disease strike 9-5, I will continue to operate outside of 9-5,” said Geen, adding that night time spraying takes place to avoid drift and protect neighbours. He also notes that last year was an “extraordinarily ugly summer,” where helicopter bills were quadruple what they normally are, therefore the noise occurrence was much greater than a typical year.

Geen, who lives at his Carr’s Landing orchard, also has farms in Kelowna and Westside and is a fourth-generation farmer who has a payroll of $9 million, plus another $5-7 million for contractors and suppliers, with growth plans underway to double in the next five years. He employs 11 full-time staff as well a large number of farm workers: 700 max of which 40-45 per cent are foreign and the rest are local and backpackers.

Geen was accused of not contributing anything to the community, particularly when it comes to tax dollars.

Coldstream’s tax revenue is mainly from residential (91.22 per cent), while agriculture makes up 1.44 per cent).

“Coldstream is a residential community. It is not, as states in this fine document (recent Coldstream newsletter), an agricultural community,” said Learmonth.

Enns adds: “We’re dealing with people starting to say, ‘we don’t want these operations here because they aren’t good neighbours.’

“With pellet plans we pay the price with noise, traffic and pollution here whereas the Europeans benefit,” said Enns. “The consumers in the export countries are getting the benefit of the fruit.”

But exports are a necessary part of success in business, says Geen.

“The crops grown here not going to be supported locally, there’s not enough people.

“We need to be looking for opportunities in the market…it may be growing cherries in the orchard or it may be turning wood waste into pellets.”

Agricultural land is a working, productive asset, Geen says, defending his contribution to the community and noting the dwindling percentage of farming taking place.

“One-hundred-and-fifty years ago 70 per cent of the population was engaged in farming…today it’s under two per cent.”

Coldstream will re-examine its noise regulation bylaw at the March 20 Committee of the Whole meeting.

In the meantime, Mayor Jim Garlick says information is being gathered and Coldstream is working with the Regional District of North Okanagan, which has equipment to measure sound readings. Coldstream is also trying to get the Ministry of Agriculture staff to come speak to council.