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Cruel and Unusual Punishment

An article by Dan Ferguson in the Tuesday, March 12 edition of The Abbotsford News gave the impression that new guidelines for propane cannons are TOUGH. The Ministry of Agriculture would like everyone to believe that, but the truth is quite different. The new regulations do little or nothing to reduce the serious noise pollution experienced by the neighbours of nearby berry farms.
The so-called tough new regulations allow cannons to fire for 13.5 hours a day versus 14 hours last year. What a joke! There is no restriction on months of operation, except that cannons must not be fired too soon before crops ripen. This means that cannons can fire for six months a year ( berry growers use them during the summer months followed by grape growers in the fall ). The sound is relentless and it seriously affects the emotional and physical well being of nearby residents. The World Health Organization has identified noise pollution as a serious threat to the health of citizens and has called for politicians in all nations to take measures to reduce or eliminate it. What is our Ministry Of Agriculture doing?
The new Ministry guidelines increase separation distances between cannons and neighbouring residences ( 150 meters within the ALR ) to satisfy the many residents who have made formal complaints. However, these guidelines are deceptive and misleading because they do not address the major problem; the noise levels from cannons. According to the Ministry's own document, complainants lived an average distance of 310 meters from the cannons, more than twice the distance set forward in the new regulations. These residents will not notice any meaningful reduction in noise. Moreover, there is nothing in the new regulations to limit the loudness settings on cannons. Most cannons can fire at low or high settings. How important is this? The sound, from a cannon firing at 120 decibels (dB), will not be reduced to a comfortable level ( 56 dB ) until it has traveled about one mile ( 1625 m ) while one firing at 130 dB requires 3.2 miles ( 5160 m ) to reach the same reduced level. Without measuring the sound levels there will be no peace for the many long-suffering neighbours of berry fields. The new 150 m guideline is laughable!
Another contentious issue is the frequency of cannon blasts. Although the report to the Minister stated that Europe and New Zealand allow no more that 4 blasts per hour for single shot cannons ( 12 blasts for triple-shot cannons ) the Ministry is allowing, respectively, 12 and 33 blasts per hour. Are these tough new regulations?
The Ministry document also mentioned that birds feed mainly in the morning and early evening, so that cannons could be shut off during the heat of the day without any serious loss of crop. This period of peace during the day could help to preserve the sanity of nearby residents, but the Ministry did not include this proposal in the new guidelines. Obviously, even a minor crop loss is more important than noise pollution: their motto is "profit before people"!
Cultivation of blueberries has increased from 970 hectares in 1982 to 3440 hectares in 2001. The use of propane cannons has increased commensurately with 50% of farms now using them. The noise pollution is getting worse year by year and the Ministry is doing almost nothing to contain it. Citizens are not going to take this cruel and unusual punishment anymore. There will be escalated protests this year during the berry season and the Ministry Of Agriculture has itself to blame.

D. S. Langley, B.C.

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