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Residents explore legal action over North Okanagan-Shuswap compost facility

CSRD, province accused of lack of oversight regarding Spa Hills Farm
Compost-producing facility Spa Hills Farm is located along Yankee Flats Road in Electoral Area D of the Columbia Shuswap Regional District. (Google Earth image)

By Barb Brouwer


A group of Yankee Flats Road residents is backing their concerns, and fears, about the amount and content of slaughterhouse waste being composted at Spa Hills Farm with a petition signed by more than 70 people.

Led by resident Pat Peebles, a delegation to the April 18 Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) outlined the group’s issues and advised that members plan to take legal action against the Ministry of the Environment and the regional district for their inaction in dealing with Spa Hills’ composting operations.

The petition, which was included in an information package submitted to the April 18 CSRD board meeting reads: “We the undersigned citizens of Salmon Valley, Silver Creek and Yankee Flats Road have serious concerns about the slaughterhouse waste composting facility…

“This is a watershed area draining into the Salmon River below. The (disease) wildlife migration, contamination of the food chain and odour have forced us to speak out against this facility. As citizens of this area we are gravely concerned with the negative environmental impact both short and long-term this type of facility will have on our community. We the undersigned citizens of this community are strongly opposed to a slaughterhouse composting facility in this area.”

In a 15-minute presentation to the CSRD board, Peebles noted she has received some 70 victims’ impact statements and outlined concerns that include: tests by CARO Analytical Water Services revealed water in the aquifer that runs alongside Spa Hills had extremely high E. coli and coliform counts. As well, the group asserts birds are constantly flying into Spa Hills’ composting area and grabbing pieces of dead animal meat and decomposing slaughter byproducts.

“Spa Hills Farm has their compost bins in just about every meat butchering facility throughout the entire Okanagan Valley and Kamloops and beyond, and there are prions of chickens, sheep, pigs, wild game, etc. in many of these facilities.”

Another concern is the suspected toxicity of the drugs used to euthanize horses being composted at Spa Hills Farm and its processing being insufficient to protect people and the environment.

Spa Hills co-owner/operator Josh Mitchell said slaughterhouse material is picked up from only two small abattoirs, one in Silver Creek and one in Kamloops. The specified Risk Management Material such as prions (necks and heads of older animals) goes directly to the landfill, he said, something that is strictly regulated by the province. In terms of the drugs used to euthanize horses, he said it is a stronger dose of the same drug used as anesthetic for operations and is fully compostable at high heat.

Read more: Restaurant chains take up composting

Read more: From curb to compost: Tracking Salmon Arm’s food waste collection program

In the initial stage of composting, slaughterhouse waste may contain coliform and salmonella, he said, but is processed in a building with temperatures that reach 55 C. If the material is still not clear of pathogens it is processed at high heat again.

In response to area residents’ concerns regarding large piles of material in the open, Mitchell described it as Class A (already cooked) compost that is curing but not leaking liquid at that point in the process.

“We deal with a lot of nasty stuff but we do the best we can and we sell the compost, which is beautiful stuff,” he said.

As to what he is permitted to compost on the farm as indicated in several documents dated 2009 that the resident group submitted to CSRD, Mitchell said the terms were laid out in a proposed federal government project to increase composting opportunities in the country. When his application was not accepted, Mitchell said he took courses and turned to the provincial government for direction.

Peebles said neighbours have tried to address their concerns with Mitchell. Peebles said she called to see if she could use her mediation experience to open communication, and that Mitchell was “defensive, loud-voiced and attempted to justify all of the negative effects of Spa Hills Farm.”

Mitchell disputes this and said he’s received many calls from people who refuse to identify themselves but are vocal in their criticism. He agreed that anger is often his response, but said he is genuinely willing to show anyone around the farm to view the operation for themselves.

CSRD Electoral Area D Falkland/Salmon Valley/Ranchero director Dean Trumbley said he has received many texts and emails regarding Spa Hills from Silver Creek residents, the majority of which have been complaints. But he noted there were those in support of the operation, which is the largest employer in the area.

In one of several documents included in the CSRD agenda package, Peebles noted the group is currently seeking legal advice and preparing to pursue this issue with the local and provincial government for lack of oversight.

In an April 19 email, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy asserted it takes environmental infractions seriously and is committed to taking strong action against companies who fail to protect our environment, waterways and wildlife.

Read more: CSRD aims to increase composting

Read more: CSRD starts food waste reduction project

“Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy environmental protection officers provide oversight of the composting facility operated by Spa Hills, including multiple inspections, including April 23, 2019 on site and reviewing data from the facility on July 16, 2020 and Feb. 11, 2021. Each of these interactions determined that the facility was complying with the Organic Matter Recycling Regulation (OMRR).

On Jan. 3, 2024, in response to complaints received by the Ministry, an environmental protection officer conducted an on-site inspection of the facility.

“The facility was found to be out compliance with several sections of the OMRR and the outcome of the inspection was an advisory of non-compliance,” reads the email.

The Ministry said advisories are issued for minor or temporary impacts to the environment, and when there is a high likelihood that a person will return to compliance. The violations outlined in the advisory form part of Spa Hill’s compliance history and will be taken into account in the event of future or ongoing non-compliance(s).

“It is important to note that not all activities that generate odours are regulated under the Environmental Management Act,” reads the email. “Many odour complaints are considered nuisance odours which don’t necessarily indicate pollution or harm to human health.”

The group is also “seeking legal advice pertaining to the CSRD for allowing this to happen (ie: manipulating zoning and not creating oversight for so many years…).”

Having been advised of possible legal action against the CSRD, chief administrative officer John MacLean advised directors to make no comment.