23 greenhouses violated bylaw in Leamington's fight over light, report finds

·3 min read
Leamington council accepted a report updating the municipality on violations to its greenhouse light bylaw that came into effect in January.  (Chris Ensing/CBC - image credit)
Leamington council accepted a report updating the municipality on violations to its greenhouse light bylaw that came into effect in January. (Chris Ensing/CBC - image credit)

Within the first four months of Leamington's greenhouse light bylaw, 23 locations were found to be non-compliant.

Between January and March 2021, bylaw enforcement officers proactively attended greenhouses across the municipality and responded to calls for non-compliance, a report to Leamington council states. Councillors accepted the report during a meeting Tuesday evening and are moving forward with serving 12 owners with court orders.

Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald spoke with CBC Radio's Windsor Morning on Wednesday and said she knew this wasn't going to be easy, but she's happy to see movement toward a "resolution."

"We knew there would be a process," she said. "These folks have done their investigation as to the best way to get the most bang for their crop, and that is by constant light and there has been no recognizing of the effect on the rest of the community, and so we've had to step in, and that bothers me that council has to be the one determining that."

She said she wishes the industry could "police itself," but since it didn't, the municipality has had to take action.

The greenhouse light abatement bylaw, approved in December, requires greenhouses to reduce the amount of light being emitted from their facilities. As of January, greenhouses were to ensure their "lights are shut off and remain off" or that curtains are completely closed between the hours of 8 p.m. and 2 a.m.

Other rules under the bylaw are expected to come into effect later this year.

The report that went to council states that in response to the violations, a letter was sent from the bylaw enforcement department to make the owner aware of the violation.

Residents have complained to council about light pollution caused by greenhouse grow lights.
Residents have complained to council about light pollution caused by greenhouse grow lights.(Submitted by Peter Loewen)

The municipality says it hired a lawyer at the beginning of March. Of the 23 locations, the report said fewer than half continued to be in violation of the bylaw following the letter.

Five applications have been submitted to the Superior Court of Justice and are in the process of being served to owners who are still not following the rules. The report says these orders were written up based on the site's most recent violation of the bylaw, frequency of violation and intensity of the light pollution.

This order requires the locations that are not obeying the bylaw to be "permanently restrained from using their grow lights other than in compliance with the bylaw."

These are expected to be spoken to on May 25.

LISTEN: MacDonald talks about the impact of greenhouse lights on the community

At least another seven applications are still being prepared, two of which are related to violations to the municipality's cannabis bylaw. These will be spoken to June 15.

The report states that the municipality can also issue tickets or summons for owners to appear before Provincial Offences Court.

But fines under the Provincial Offences Act are set at $750 per occurrence, plus a victim fine surcharge — something that MacDonald said wasn't as bad of a consequence.

"The deterrents are a little more severe going through the Superior Court ... so the court will make a ruling and initially it may not seem as terribly severe but if that business does not follow the ruling of the court then the restrictions become much more severe, higher fines, imprisonment, those kinds of things," she said.

Previously it's been said that fines can range from $25,000 to $100,000 for corporations, but the report states that that isn't always the case.

"Fines in the higher ranges are generally issued in the most egregious of cases," the report states.

MacDonald noted that there are two businesses who are appealing to the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board and seeking a ruling on whether greenhouse lights are normal farm practice.

She said council is looking forward to the ruling.