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Thousands of dead pigs lying in massive piles were discovered at an organics processing plant outside Princeton in December, prompting concern from the local First Nation about possible impacts to the land and river.
Local governments in the Similkameen area are supporting the facility after the discovery, finding the animals producing leachate that drains into the environment near the Similkameen River.
In a letter to Princeton City Council on Monday, the Upper Similkameen Indian Band asked the city to send a formal letter withdrawing its support and outlining issues with the facility.
Net Zero Waste Eastgate is an industrial composting facility, operating out of the former mushroom composting facility located on Placer Forest Service Road approximately 50 kilometers southwest of Princeton and beside the Similkameen River.
“It’s like a horror movie,” said Robin Irwin, USIB’s director of natural resources. The group had been told there had been increased activity heading to the site, but they had no idea what was being dumped until they entered the composting facility.
“Many of the pigs we saw in these massive piles were not on paved ground. And they were dumped in a pile less than 100 yards from the banks of the Similkameen [River]and I mean thousands of pig carcasses.
According to the letter sent to the council, when the company was proposing to expand this site in 2019, USIB, RDOS and the City of Princeton initially provided letters of support regarding an application to the Organics Infrastructure Program Funding of the province of British Columbia.
USIB explained that at the end of 2020 they rescinded their letter of support after being informed that the site could process biosolids – stabilized municipal sewage sludge – which was not disclosed during their initial conversation with the facility.
“Our understanding is that the site received clearance on April 1, 2020 from the BC Ministry of Environment, Environmental Protection Division,” USIB wrote.
On December 8, 2021, USIB received a report of increased traffic to the Net Zero Waste facility and increased material deposition, which they said was linked to overwhelming flooding in the Fraser Valley.
“I mean, it’s kind of upsetting that they’re using the Similkameen as some sort of dumping ground, or a disposal area for dead animals from the Abbotsford areas. It’s just not something I think anyone wants to see right now,” Irwin added.
“As well as being an atrocious and heinous thing to see, the smell is absolutely horrible. Dead pigs, lying in huge uncovered, uncontained heaps… the potential impact of the disease on the ecosystem and the challenges the Similkameen are facing right now.
A team of USIB natural resources personnel visited the site on December 10 and were “alarmed to find what was estimated to be several thousand dead and rotting pig carcasses”.
“In addition to the massive number of animal deaths, we also found leachate and contaminated water draining directly from the facility into the receiving environment near the Similkameen River. The materials on site appeared to exceed the permitted 5,000 tonnes of compost per year, and much of the material was on bare ground, away from the cement slabs which are the required dumping ground for the processing of building materials. compost.
After the discovery, the USIB provided the data and the photo to the environmental protection officer responsible for authorizing the site.
“The officer was unaware of the conditions of the facility and an urgent inspection took place on December 21, 2021. Numerous issues related to compliance with the Organics Recycling Regulations were identified. We anticipate a copy of the inspection report within the next few weeks,” the USIB added.
“They have to go somewhere, but we certainly didn’t expect to find them there. I mean, it was announced when we heard about the opening of this facility that it would be a green facility,” Irwin said.
Net Zero Waste owner Mateo Ocejo disputes USIB’s claims, arguing that the facility is in full compliance with regulations and rules.
Ocejo explained that they were contacted by the Ministry of Agriculture in December, as they operate a number of different composting facilities in British Columbia, during the provincial state of emergency to help with deceased animals. .
“Dumping, that just couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. “The options for the Department of Agriculture were that these pigs are dead, they are in a pile of water in the Fraser Valley contaminating drinking water, making other animals sick, making people sick. So what can we do with these dead animals? »
“Normally they would go to a rendering facility, I normally don’t take dead pigs. That’s not what we do. We took about 17 truckloads of pigs and it’s because of a whole facility that all the pigs are dead.
But when the rendering facilities couldn’t keep up, Ocejo said his facility was called for help, slowly going through the process of turning the dead pigs into dirt.
“We don’t bury anything, we don’t throw anything away. What we do is controlled by organic material recycling regulations… Because we recovered a lot of it, it took us a few weeks to put it under the jackets. Normally anything that arrives is placed under a jacket the same day it arrives.
Although he said a bunch of pigs might look like one way, his job is to dilute it and follow their procedure to correct for porosity, moisture content, and carbon to nitrogen ratio so that pigs decompose properly.
An investigation by the Ministry of the Environment is underway at the establishment following reports of pigs.
“In response to a complaint, Departmental Environmental Compliance and Enforcement staff visited the composting facility near Princeton on December 21, 2021 to assess compliance with the Environmental Management Act. environment and organic matter recycling regulations. The ministry is currently finalizing its inspection findings and awaiting on-site sample results. »
Once the inspection report is completed, it will be posted to the Natural Resources Compliance and Enforcement Database.
“We’re just trying to work with the province to find out what was regulated there. I know there were a lot of infractions when the inspection was finally done after our visit,” Irwin explained.
“I think one of the issues we have is that the BC government needs to work with Indigenous communities to support community monitoring of industrial operations. Because of our guardianship, which is why it was discovered.
Asked about the ministry’s investigation into the facility, Ocejo said “there is nothing wrong with our operation” and that he was “100% confident that we are in compliance with regulations.” So there will be no violations. »
“We are not a dumping ground, we do not pollute the Similkameen River or any river, we have monitoring wells and we operate on a concrete slab with a pond lined under gore tex jackets.”
For the USIB, the primary concern is the “health of our valley, the land, the animals, and the Similkameen River, as well as the physical and cultural health of our people.”
“We know what is happening on the ground. We take our guardianship role very seriously and, at the end of the day, if we hadn’t visited, I don’t know if the government would have ever known this was happening,” Irwin added.
The group’s review of the Net Zero Waste facility is ongoing, but its concerns focus on the industrial-scale processing of waste, including biosolids and huge numbers of animal carcasses, which occurs without adequate monitoring and with potentially serious ecological and cultural impacts, including threats to soil and surface waters.
The Princeton City Council is also getting involved.
“It’s very concerning to have this so close to our water system and that’s why we’re asking staff to investigate,” Mayor Spencer Coyne said.
Irwin wants the provincial government to take steps to improve site regulations so that important lands are protected.
Editor’s note: This article has been edited to include a comment from Net Zero Waste that was submitted after publication.