A group of Saanich residents are raising a stink about a mountain of garden waste near their Interurban properties, and they say the municipality has done little to control the mess.
For the past two years, Sonja and Dale Featherstone have watched a garden waste pile grow at MacNutt Enterprises off Courtland Avenue next to their home. The facility processes several thousand tonnes of municipal yard waste under three-year $698,000 contracts. MacNutt also operates other industrial businesses on site.
“We just want answers from the municipality about what’s allowed and what isn’t.” Dale said.
“The smell is just horrendous in the summer,” Dale said.
Email correspondence dating back to 2012 between nearby residents and municipal officials details a growing frustration with what neighbours call a lack of action by the municipality.
Neighbours ask about decibel level noise monitoring, say they’ve witnessed dumping of liquids on the property and ask repeatedly about a soil mixing operation on Agricultural Land Reserve property, a non-permitted use on the land, according to Chief Administrative Officer Paul Murray.
“We confirmed they [MacNutt Enterprises] have slightly expanded their allowable soil operation into adjacent property they also own,” Murray wrote in an email forwarded to the The News on Wednesday. “This is not permitted and we have asked that they also reduce operations back into the area where soil operations are allowable. They should do that.”
Bylaw officers have issued four tickets resulting from noise complaints by neighbours, but it took an Oct. 30 meeting between District of Saanich lawyers, bylaw officers and the business owner before the MacNutts committed to develop a plan to deal with the noise and nuisance issues. Murray said bylaw enforcement is “following up with them on that.”
But heavy machinery used to grind and refine the piles have garnered dozens of noise complaints since 2012 to the District’s bylaw enforcement office.
The Featherstones say the smell, noise and pollution invades their home of 30 years regularly. The exterior has been covered with dirt due to grinding and conveyance work. The couple says no one has informed them whether dumping and other industrial operations on the MacNutt property are impacting soil or air quality.
Neighbours also raised concerns about drainage into nearby Durrell Creek, which feeds into Colquitz Creek.
In recent weeks, bylaw enforcement officers have taken some action and Murray said further legal action can be taken to ensure compliance.
But late promises aren’t good enough for Courtland Avenue neighbours, who say the noise and improper use of ALR land has been going on for years.
“I don’t blame the MacNutts, they’re just doing their job,” said Dale. “No one’s telling MacNutt Enterprises when enough is enough. We thought Saanich council would be all over this. All we want is answers about what they can and can’t do.”
Not a new concern
Council was officially made aware of the issue in April 2012, when neighbour Louise Beinhauer sent the District an email detailing the improper use of ALR land. The email response confirmed the issue would be brought to the attention of mayor and council.
“I haven’t heard from any councillors about this or the mayor in all this time. Nobody has, other than one email from Vic Derman,” said Beinhauer, who has lived in the area for 33 years. “But how do you solve this? Are we just wasting our breath here?”
Derman said he’s reviewed some of the emails between neighbours and Saanich bylaw enforcement. He also met with a concerned neighbour.
“I took the issue to our CAO that there are some very legitimate concerns here and we address the issue,” Derman said. “Individual councillors can’t order staff to do anything. If council as a whole wants to take action, it has to go through the normal process of council.”
Mayor Frank Leonard said he’s proud of the work staff are doing to bring the issue to a successful conclusion. He said bylaw officers have been actively pursuing the file for months.
“It’s perfectly legal for the MacNutts to compost garden waste on that site,” Leonard said.
“That’s where people’s expectations have to be realistic. It’s generally a pretty low odour type of composting with branches, leaves and clippings from your yard,” Leonard added.
Mayoral candidate Richard Atwell said there are still looming questions around the lack immediate action resulting from neighbour complaints. The issue could also still escalate.
“There’s certainly a conflict here where Saanich is the customer of MacNutt and the regulator of the bylaws,” Atwell said.
“It’s also a very large-scale operation. Have they exceeded this operation for composting?”
Multiple requests for comment left with a woman on a business line for the MacNutts went unanswered.