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UPDATE: Increased propane cannon regulations to go to public hearing

Farm bylaw would create greater restrictions on cannon use
A public hearing will be held on a proposal to increase the regulations on blueberry cannons.

The debate over tougher regulations for propane cannons will go to a public hearing on June 10.

Monday night, council approved the first and second reading of a bylaw that would see greater restrictions on audible bird scare devices), which are used to keep birds – mainly starlings – away from berry crops.

The use of propane cannons is protected by the provincial Right to Farm Act and farmers must follow guidelines set out by the ministry of agriculture. The city does not have the authority to enforce the guidelines, and any issues between farmers and neighbours are addressed by a liaison from the B.C. Blueberry Council, who also has no legal authority to enforce proper use.

To further regulate cannons, the city must create a “farm bylaw” that requires approval from the ministry. A farm bylaw committee was created to draft a bylaw, following complaints about cannon use.

Coun. John Smith was a member of the committee, and said the original stipulations the committee was seeking were much stricter. Following input from stakeholders, the restrictions were loosened.

“I am completely persuaded that this is a huge issue that is not going to get better.”

The report on the proposed bylaw also recommends implementing a starling management program with other regional stakeholders to decrease bird predation.

The bylaw would require farmers to pay a registration fee of $50 to use cannons, plus an additional cost of $25 per cannon. Farmers would also have to put a sign on their land stating that they use cannons, and provide a telephone number in case of complaints.

The cannons would only be able to operate from 7 a.m. to noon, and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The current ministry guideline is 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.  The cannons would be allowed to fire four times per hour for single-shot devices, and three times for multi-shot devices). Currently, single-shot devices may fire up to 12 shots per hour, and multi-shot up to 11 times.

The bylaw would also limit the use to a maximum of one device per two hectares of land, which must be located a minimum of 300 metres from neighbouring homes, dog kennels and buildings that hold livestock. The ministry guidelines currently allow cannons within 200 metres of neighbouring homes and has no restrictions for proximity to livestock.  The bylaw would also stop any new farms from using the devices. It would also imposed fines of $250 for most violations, and $500 fines for using cannons outside of set hours, exceeding the firing frequency and contravening setback rules.

Coun. Moe Gill said he supported some aspects of the plan such as signage, but disagreed with others, saying a regulation restricting use from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. would be ineffective.

“Starlings don’t go home at 7 p.m.”

But Coun. Bill MacGregor said attention must be paid to the health of neighbours, as the committee heard from experts who said that living in proximity to cannons can cause stress and anxiety.

Mayor Bruce Banman said it is important to consider public health, adding the cannons pit neighbour against neighbour, and he fears the issue could “erupt in violence.” He said it is not a rural versus urban issue, but rather rural versus rural, saying there is a need to balance the interests of farmers and their neighbours.