The mussel operation in question is in Gorge Harbour on Cortes. SRD map

Cortes residents battle mussel operation over noise

Questions for hearing include whether activities are considered processing

Some Cortes Island residents are saying a nearby mussel operation in Gorge Harbour makes too much noise.

This week, the B.C. Farm Industry Review Board (BCFIRB) is in Campbell River for a hearing into the practices of Island Sea Farms (ISF) and its operations known under the brand new name of Saltspring Island Mussels.

The issue for residents such as Vern and Mary Kemp and Brian Hayden is that the machinery used is too loud and operates for too many hours. Ultimately, it gets down to whether the operation is of too large a scale to be compatible with what the residents say are the otherwise calm and quiet waters of Gorge Harbour.

“We’re saying it’s not a normal farm practice in the Gorge,” Vern Kemp told the Mirror.

For the residents, they say the noise levels are too high. They point to the topography of the Gorge, which is mostly enclosed to surrounding waters and intensifies the sound, which Hayden, writing his his submission, said can be in the 60 to 70 decibel range, or even as high as 85. (According to HealthLink BC, 60 is considered background music or normal conversation level, 70 is typical office noise or the inside of a car at highway speed, while 85 is the threshold at which noise can be harmful.)

“It is like an amphitheatre situation,” Hayden told the Mirror.

The residents also say they are not opposed to smaller scale aquaculture taking place in the region, but they argue ISF’s machinery does not fit with the official community plan (OCP) or Aquaculture Zones 1 and 2, as they view the ISF activities as processing. They also take issue with unsuccessful regional district efforts to expand these industrial aquaculture activities beyond what is already happening in Gorge Harbour.

“There’s not supposed to be any machinery used in the Gorge Harbour,” Hayden said, who added the regional district had sued previous oyster operations, which eventually left the area.

The company uses machinery for activities such as bringing up mussels and tumbling them before returning them to the water. Another source of noise, according to the residents, is from the boats the company occasionally uses to chase away birds such as ducks that dive for the mussels.

The BCFIRB hearing started Tuesday morning at the Discovery Inn with testimony from a expert, or “knowledgeable person,” Myron Roth. He is an aquaculture specialist for the Ministry of Agriculture and composed a report for the hearing.

His report examines key issues, most notably whether the mechanized practices of ISF are regular industry practice, including any resulting noise, the practice of using power boats to scare of birds such as ducks that dive for mussels and other factors such as waste from material like Styrofoam from equipment.

Roth also questioned the role the regional district suggesting that while a local government can determine types of activities through zoning, how aquaculture is performed falls under the jurisdiction of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. He did suggest, however, there is some uncertainty around local regulations.

‘That’s a bit of a grey area,” he said. “This has caused a little bit of confusion.”

He also referred to the near creation of best practices processes for the Gorge Harbour, but this did not happen. Paul Simpson of ISF had Roth confirm that ISF had support the process.

During the first day at the hearing, Hayden was being cross-examined by ISF’s Simpson, the respondent, who had Hayden clarify that the Gorge resident had bought his property after shellfish activities were already underway at the site. He also asked about why Hayden had cleared trees on his property that might have mitigated any sound issues.

“If you’re concerned with sound, you don’t take trees down,” he told Hayden, who replied he had cleared the trees to open his garden to sunlight. During his cross of Hayden, Simpson also said his company only used boats to drive away birds approximately 10 times in a 10-year period.

There are other stakeholders appearing at the hearing as interveners, such as the Klahoose First Nation and the B.C. Shellfish BC Shellfish Growers Association (BCSGA). BCSGA executive director Darlene Winterburn also cross-examined Hayden, pointing out that even though shellfish operations in the area were smaller scale when he bought his house, it was the nature of any farm, aqua or land-based, to grow and expand. More notably, she also brought up the question of what is considered processing, saying that it is narrowly by the federal government. She added that activities such as using machinery for tumbling mussels would not be classified as processing but rather as “handling.”

Hayden, an archaeologist, was also taken to task for questioning the Klahoose’s traditional claims in the area.

The BCFIRB hearing is scheduled to run through the week.

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