Greenhouse growers aim to loosen Leamington, Kingsville 'glow' bylaws
WINDSOR, ONT. -- The group representing more than 200 hundred greenhouse growers in Ontario wants to loosen new bylaws in Leamington and Kingsville meant to bring back the night sky from the nightly greenhouse glow.
On Friday, the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG) issued a news release in which the group said it was “eager to engage” with both municipalities to adjust the regulations.
"The period of time that the full closure – it’s just not doable," said Joe Sbrocchi, the general manager of the OGVG, in an interview with CTV News. “It would risk the crops at different times a year.”
Sbrocchi says the four-hour window from 2:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. in Leamington growers have to vent heat and humidity by opening light-blocking curtains won’t work for farmers. In Kingsville, a blanket ban on greenhouse lights will also need adjusting according to the OGVG.
Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald is a bit taken aback by the public push from the group to rework the bylaw.
"For a moment I’m speechless," said MacDonald. "They had six weeks from our initial council meeting to the passing of the by-law so, to me I don’t understand why the willingness to talk now."
MacDonald says some growers have approached the town to adjust the venting time but, feels the four-hour window in the middle of the night is already a compromise for residents unhappy with the nightly glow.
"[Growers] want to be able to vent in the evening hours but, that’s when our residents are impacted and that’s when our residents are asking us to get dark skies back," said MacDonald.
The Leamington bylaw comes into effect as of Jan. 1, 2021 and will require growers to turn lights off from 8:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m. while allowing ceiling curtains to be opened 10 per cent until 6:00 a.m. to allow venting.
As of April 1, 2021, the municipality will require greenhouses to have side and end curtains installed and by Oct. 1, 2021 ceiling curtains are required. Following that, curtains must be drawn an hour before sunset and an hour after sunrise.
According to Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos, growers in the town have by-and-large complied with the new regulations implemented near the end of October.
Santos says five growers have been identified as not in compliance but, the town is confident those growers are working towards compliance.
In Kingsville, growers have until Dec. 31, 2020 to comply or to show a plan towards compliance as supply shortage and high demand for the greenhouse curtains create delays.
"We’ve got both sets of that. Compliance by the end of the year absolutely, you know we’ve just got a small handful of growers that are just waiting for the curtains to come in," said Santos.
Sbrocchi pointed to the 10 per cent variance offered in Leamington – the ability for growers to open their shades to 90 per cent drawn to allow for venting – as a minimum solution to blanket light bans.
Santos says town inspectors are looking into the possibility.
"We’re looking at what does 90 per cent look like in terms of allowing a little bit of escape for obviously the protection of the plant and the crop," said Santos. "We’re willing to learn and see what type of impact that would be."
The glow from the region’s greenhouses can be see from the Detroit River and is immediately evident upon approaching the town at night as beams of orange and violet shoot into the sky.
MacDonald says the town has received countless calls and letters about the issue.
"We’ve had letters from Ohio," said MacDonald.
Sbrocchi says many growers live in the community and the OGVG is working to be a good neighbour.
"OGVG and our members are committed to working with the communities in which they farm," said George Gilvesy, Chairperson of the OGVG, in a news release. "Our growers understand and share community concerns on the effects of light pollution to the environment."
Sbrocchi points to the explosion of growth in the greenhouse sector for the rapidly increasing light pollution and hopes growers can find regulations that allow demand to be met while bringing back starry nights.
"It wasn’t a problem five or ten years ago and I would suggest that five years from now it won’t be a problem again because we will have figured it out but, what we’re asking for is a solution that is most right for right now," said Sbrocchi.
Between the two bylaws, fines can range from $1,000 to $100,000.