Although the thundering boom of propane cannons echoing across blueberry farms is meant to scare away birds, this summer it has resulted in a flood of angry complaints to the municipality.
But with less than a month left in the blueberry growing season, Delta’s manager of bylaw enforcement Hugh Davies said there’s little that can be done until next season.
“I’ve contacted local representatives with the Blueberry Council and they’ve agreed that we’ll have a meeting in the fall to discuss some of the complaints that we’ve received during this season,” he said during a report to Delta Council on Monday (July 29).
The blueberry season began in early July and the Corporation has received 33 complaints in that time, mostly related to firing cannons outside of the allowable times. Two tickets for $300 each were issued to farmers.
Delta’s Noise Control Bylaw restricts the use of blueberry cannons from 6:30 a.m. (or sunrise) to noon and 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. (or sunset), and must be placed a minimum of 300 metres away from residential property. The cannons are allowed a single shot once every five minutes, or 11 activations generating 33 shots in one hour from multiple shot devices. The cannons must also be relocated every four days.
Davies said most farmers are in compliance but two-thirds of the complaints are related to one property involving three separate incidents. The field is a new 25-hectare blueberry farm near Holly Elementary School, roughly within 300 metres of an existing residential subdivision.
He said he has attempted to contact the farmer but has so far been unsuccessful in arranging a meeting.
Delta will now work with the BC Farm Industry Review Board on settling the matter. The possibility of escalating fines for non-compliant farmers is one option open to the municipality.
Although Delta can work with farmers on noise control, bylaws governing the cannons themselves fall under provincial jurisdiction and the Right to Farm Act. The province has indicated to other jurisdictions with similar complaints that it has no plan to change the laws governing blueberry cannons.
“So, you can scream all you want at your municipal councillors, but it’s a provincial government that mandates the use of propane cannons and bird scare devices,” said Coun. Ian Paton, adding he was on the phone most of last week dealing with the issue. “There’s a lot of ticked off people right now in Delta.”
He, along with Davies and Mayor Lois Jackson took part in a community-organized blueberry cannon forum at the Sundance Inn on Ladner Trunk Road last Wednesday to listen to concerns from the 150 residents who attended. Many of them said the noise was harming their quality of life.
“You can fire them right until eight o’clock at night, so you can imagine if you’re sitting in your backyard and you’re entertaining some company and having a backyard barbecue and you’re listening to these propane cannons going off every 60 seconds it’s pretty irritating,” said Paton.
Mayor Lois Jackson said the issue isn’t so much the existing farms but the new ones springing up in fields that used to grow peas or potatoes.
“Abutting a blueberry farm or new blueberry crop right next to residential areas, knowing that we’ve got problems with cannons, may be something we have to talk about in the review we’re going to have,” she said.