B.C. farmer fined $22K for illegal slaughter-waste dump moves it down the road
Andy Stewart can't help but notice the ravens, turkey vultures and bald eagles that regularly circle his neighbour's farm.
He says feeding frenzies have been happening at the Cobble Hill property, about 50 kilometres north of Victoria, for years as truck after truck carrying slaughter waste unloads onto a compost pile.
Nearby residents have even reported finding innards and other byproducts in their yards dropping from the sky after slipping from the talons of the birds.
"The first thing that went through my mind is, this can't be legal," said Stewart, a retired wildlife biologist. "It's been three full years since we first reported this to the ministry, and it's still going on."
The land is owned by G.T. Farms Ltd. Over the years, the farmer, Gordon Truswell, has collected slaughter waste from nearby Island Farmhouse Poultry and then illegally dumped it on his property, according to provincial documents.
He's been hit with $22,100 in fines related to the dumping, and more have been recommended by inspectors after he moved operations to a second property about a kilometre away. The poultry company has been issued a warning.
Residents are particularly concerned the waste could contaminate the aquifer that supports the community while also growing frustrated by the wildlife the waste attracts and the smells. District officials fear it could harm the already vulnerable Koksilah watershed and river.
"We all rely on the river," said Alison Nicholson, the vice chair of the Cowichan Valley Regional District. "With slaughter waste, you've got the risk of leachates getting into your water supply, down into the ground or the streams."
Nicholson says the cumulative impact of farming and land use in the watershed has led to low water levels, pollution, and threatened fish populations.
"Even though one landowner thinks they're not doing anything particularly bad ... it's all adding up in a serious way," she said.
Truswell declined an interview, noting that he has appealed the fines and has since applied to run permitted composting operations at his properties.
CBC News has also reached out to Island Farmhouse Poultry.
The first complaints about the property emerged in January 2020 and were followed by a visit by a provincial inspector to a property at 1855 Thain Road.
The inspector found Truswell had accepted chicken slaughter from a nearby site, a violation under the Code of Practice for Agricultural Environmental Management (COPMEA), which states farmers can only dispose of slaughter waste that comes from their own property. COPMEA came into effect in 2019 to protect the environment in high-risk areas.
Truswell's property is considered to be in a vulnerable aquifer recharge area that supplies many residents in the area with drinking water.
WATCH: Truck unloads slaughter waste at unauthorized site:
Inspectors also found the compost wasn't covered during the rainy season, allowing leachate to escape and enter the watercourse.
Truswell was issued a warning, but follow-up inspections over the next year found continued violations. Residents complained again about slaughter waste being dumped weekly, attracting eagles and ravens.
During a follow-up inspection in 2021, Truswell confirmed he had an ongoing contract with Island Farmhouse Poultry to take their slaughter waste up to three times a week and had nowhere else to dispose of it. Inspectors found leachate escaping down the driveway into a ditch that flows into a tributary of the Koksilah River.
On Nov. 21, 2022, the ministry fined Truswell $22,100 for the violations. He told CBC News he is appealing the penalties.
Poultry farm gets another warning
Truswell has a second property at 4035 Hillbank Road, about a kilometre from the first site. Provincial inspectors visited it on Nov. 17 and 18, 2022. Officers confirmed Truswell continued to accept slaughter waste from Island Farmhouse Poultry, along with a number of other repeat violations.
Penalties have been recommended once again.
Inspectors then visited Island Farmhouse Poultry on Feb. 14 this year. By extension of its agreement with G.T. Farms, they found the company "is discharging solid waste into the environment from activities related to the poultry processing industry."
It was issued a warning, noting the offence can carry a $1 million fine and six months imprisonment. It was told to stop discharging or apply for a permit.
Calls for enforcement
In a statement, the Ministry of Environment said G.T. Farm's appeal process is ongoing, and it's not authorized to compost at either facility.
Stewart claims he has since seen trucks enter the property and has filed additional complaints.
"Three years this has been going on, and we've seen no changes. The only thing that we've noticed is G.T. Farms keeps locating to different sites," he said.
"That's about all the Ministry of Environment has achieved. They haven't slowed it down. They haven't stopped it. They've just moved it around."
Stewart says he'd like to see the ministry issue a court order to stop the dumping.
Pam Miller, the president of the local Kingburne Valley Community Association, says the years-long saga has been frustrating, and residents lack confidence it will come to an end anytime soon.
"My sense is this isn't an isolated experience. I'd bet there are operators like this in other parts of B.C."