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Leamington greenhouse owners face 88 charges over lighting bylaw

Lights from greenhouses are seen in the sky above the Leamington sign. (Chris Ensing/CBC - image credit)
Lights from greenhouses are seen in the sky above the Leamington sign. (Chris Ensing/CBC - image credit)

The Municipality of Leamington has laid dozens of charges against greenhouse operators for allegedly violating new rules restricting lighting.

Eighty-eight charges have recently been laid against 12 greenhouse companies, stemming from enforcement that began last November, the municipality said in a news release Friday.

Mayor Hilda MacDonald said the majority of greenhouses are in compliance with the bylaw.

"The problem with what we're seeing right now, some of the 12 are fairly large and so the lights are bright simply because of the size of the farm," MacDonald  said.

Leamington passed a new bylaw on greenhouse lighting last June. It's designed to address longstanding complaints over powerful, colourful lights from the greenhouse industry illuminating the night sky.

MacDonald said the municipality has tried to find a compromise between the needs of the industry, which has expanded dramatically in the last four to six years, with that of residents.

"We've tried to find that balance and now it needs to be that the majority has quality of life not negatively affected by an industry that is growing here," she said.

Chris Ensing/CBC
Chris Ensing/CBC

Under the light abatement bylaw, greenhouse owners who use lights had until Oct. 1 of last year to close their curtains from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Those without curtains were told to provide evidence that the coverings would be installed on or before Oct. 1 of this year, or declare that they would not use greenhouse lights at all.

The deadline for that documentation was Oct. 1 of last year, but the municipality said it only heard from two greenhouse owners.

The penalty upon conviction is a fine, which would be set by the justice of the peace hearing the case.

Richard Lee, executive director of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG), said it was "unfortunate" that the municipality resorted to charges before education.

"It's a new bylaw. We want to comply," he said. "We want to be good neighbours. We want to be able to support our community, not only from an economic standpoint, but be able to provide that relationship that we can work together."

MacDonald said she was surprised by the reaction from the OGVG since work on this issue goes back to a 2020 bylaw.

The OGVG fought that bylaw through the provincial body that hears disputes over farming practices.

A letter of agreement was signed between the municipality, the OGVG and other growers on the issues, and an updated version of the bylaw was passed last year.

"Since Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association is an arm, or a representative, of that industry, I would think it would be up to them to educate," MacDonald said.

Colin Côté-Paulette/Radio-Canada
Colin Côté-Paulette/Radio-Canada

Lee said that supply chain issues are hampering compliance with the bylaw. There are delays in getting the curtains and there are also delays in getting contractors to install them, so he wants to see some leniency for growers.

MacDonald said that the deadline of October 2023 was set to allow time for receipt and installation of the curtains.

"I don't know what else we can do," she said. "We gave notice of the bylaw. It's in the media, it's in the paper, it's on our website."

The lights, which are used by both the vegetable and cannabis-growing industry, are used to supplement sunlight, particularly during times of the year with less daylight.

Lee said this supports year-round production, ultimately making the food supply more secure.

"I think if we've learned anything over the pandemic, the need for food security to feed North America is paramount. There were challenges that people were concerned about accessing affordable from the grocery store during these times during the pandemic and agriculture was an essential service, so they didn't miss a beat."