A panel of the P.E.I. Farm Practices Review Board will reconvene within 30 days to gather information with regard to a farm practices complaint the Town of Alberton has filed against, Westech Agriculture, a farm operation within its municipal boundaries.
The new date for the hearing still has to be determined.
The process to get to the point of adjourning to a later date took approximately 75 minutes. Mayor Michael Murphy, Councillor responsible for environment, Kelly Williams, town administrator Susan Wallace-Flynn and at least two other town residents were in attendance.
The town filed its complaint last fall after receiving complaints from neighbours of the farm about strong odours coming from a composted fertilizer mixture, believed to contain seaweed and lobster bodies, which had been delivered to the farm.
A four-member panel of the Board met Wednesday in O’Leary to hear the complaint but, at the request of legal representation for the town, agreed to an adjournment.
Lawyer David Hooley, who advised the panel that he was recently retained by the town, said his client feels there are significant gaps in evidence that still need to be obtained before the hearing proceeds.
He argued it would be premature to proceed with the hearing until all of the relevant and available evidence can be marshaled and organized for orderly presentation.
The town’s lawyer sought the Board’s involvement in selecting an expert who could speak to best farm practices for the type of compost the farm is using.
Hooley said he has requested copies of relevant background information from government and regulatory bodies, and he has also filed Freedom of Information requests for documents. He suggested it would likely take less than 120 days to gather all the information but noted Freedom of Information requests can take considerable time.
Wednesday was the first time a panel of the board has met to hear a complaint.
Following a short adjournment, Board chairman Ronnie MacWilliams said the panel was prepared to grant an adjournment of up to 30 days. He said an adjournment of 60 days would be cutting it close to the opening of another lobster fishing season. “We feel we should have something in place before shellfish become available again,” he advised.
Robert MacNevin, lawyer for the board, said the board recently became aware of a report that speaks to what might be the basis for determining the best farming practices for using the type of compostable fertilizer at issue. He suggested one of the authors might constitute an expert who could be called to present once the panel reconvenes.
The owners of Westech Agriculture were not in attendance for the scheduled panel hearing, and the town’s lawyer said he understands the farm had previously declined to participate in mediation offered by the Board, and that they had indicted to the Board that they did not intend to participate in the process, including the panel hearing.
“Unfortunately, Westech’s approach complicates everyone’s job in obtaining all the relevant evidence to the complaint and the application before the Board,” Hooley said in a written submission to the Board.
Letters in support of Westech’s operations were presented to the panel for consideration shortly after Wednesday’s panel adjourned.
When the panel reconvenes, the number of complainants might be larger. Hooley named four residents who indicated they want to become co-complainants with the Town of Alberton. He also advised he will likely be calling seven or eight farm neighbours to give evidence, but he conceded the list of witnesses could be longer than that.