Compost: Farming or industry?

Central Saanich considers bylaw surrounding large-scale composting

Ray Baker stands on his property which borders the compost facility on Stanhope Farm. Baker hopes Central Saanich will not pass a bylaw amendment that would allow the farm to sell their compost off site.

Ray Baker stands on his property which borders the compost facility on Stanhope Farm. Baker hopes Central Saanich will not pass a bylaw amendment that would allow the farm to sell their compost off site.

Residents in Central Saanich who live near Stanhope Farm oppose the farm’s processing of waste into compost, saying the facility is operating against the rules. But Stanhope Farm co-owner and manager of the compost facility, Matt Mansell, says that’s not the case.

“We’re not skirting any bylaws as the [neighbours] may suggest. We’ve met or exceeded any bylaw regulation that was put forward to us,” said Mansell.

The subject of large scale composting and the sale of compost has been contentious in Central Saanich for over a decade.

Currently, the municipality does not allow the sale of compost from a farm facility, but the Agricultural Land Reserve Act allows for farms to sell up to 50 per cent of their compost off site.

“We do sell compost, but it’s compost that’s been produced as a byproduct of farming. This is not a new thing for Stanhope Farm, this has been going on for 60 years and we know we are in full compliance with the law,” said Mansell. “We’ve  been inspected prior to starting the facility and many times since it’s been in operation. If we weren’t operating in accordance with the law, the CRD would be the first to pull our compost licence.”

The issue of large-scale composting involves municipal, regional and provincial governments, but it is ultimately up to the municipality to decide whether or not farms can operate commercially by selling their compost.

“Central Saanich has the power to override what the Agricultural Land Commission allows,” said Ray Baker, a neighbour of Stanhope Farm. He hopes the municipality will not decide to change their bylaw to allow farms to sell compost for use off site.

“If they aren’t using the compost on site and are trucking in waste to convert to compost, then it’s obvious they are operating an industrial waste processing facility. They aren’t farming.”

Baker and his wife Lee Hardy live adjacent to the farm and the composting facility and say that along with the noise, dust and smell from the compost facility disturbing them and other neighbours, the facility and the truck traffic that comes with it is impacting the use of the popular Lochside Trail.

“In 2006, this trail had 1.6 million people use it. Can you imagine how many use it now? It’s a tourist destination and draw for the Peninsula. We don’t want it to become Hartland Road,” said Hardy.

David Bond lives along Lochside Trail down the road from Stanhope Farm and said some days the congestion along the trail becomes excessive.

“Between the trail traffic of walkers, runners and cyclists and the local traffic, then you add the trucks, it gets ridiculous and it’s dangerous,” he said.

Baker noted that previously lawsuits have been filed over the same issue, but “for fear of lawsuits we can’t just let everyone do what they want.”

The legal action against previous compost facilities included a case in 2000 between the municipality and Vantrieight Farms which stopped Vantreight from selling compost. A case in 2003 against Michell Farm by a neighbour with similar complaints as the ones that are being voiced about Stanhope was dismissed with a ruling that the Michells acted within their rights as farmers.

The District of Central Saanich sent a staff report on the issue of large scale composting to the agricultural advisory committee and the Peninsula agricultural commission for input, but feedback on the subject has not yet been presented at council meetings.

At council’s July 23 meeting, director of planning and building services Hope Burns said she was hopeful reports from staff that were submitted to the commissions would come back with comments at some point in September, after council’s summer break.