Cloverdale resident Jim McMurtry (inset) and other residents (shown in a 2009 protest) have long tried to silence blueberry cannons

Surrey man sues city over blueberry blasters

A Cloverdale man, fed up with apparent inaction to quell blueberry-cannon noise, is suing the City of Surrey for "unanticipated expense and emotional harm."

  • Tue Aug 23rd, 2011 7:00am
  • News

A Cloverdale man, fed up with apparent inaction to quell blueberry-cannon noise, is suing the City of Surrey for “unanticipated expense and emotional harm.”

In his claim, Jim McMurtry accuses the city of neglecting “to discharge its duty to enforce its own bylaws.”

“The city turns a blind eye to many of its bylaws, from monster homes and truck parking on the ALR to cosmetic pesticides and the destruction of active bird nests. More to the point here, it neglects to ever fine a farmer that violates its noise law on the use of propane cannons,” McMurtry writes in an email to media.

But city solicitor Craig MacFarlane doubts the suit – in which McMurtry is seeking partial reimbursement of funds spent on property he bought in the U.S. to escape the noise – would go far.

“He claims that he had to buy a vacation home in Washington State because he can’t stand the noise of blueberry cannons,” MacFarlane told Peace Arch News Wednesday.

“I don’t think the taxpayers of Surrey would want to subsidize somebody’s vacation residence. That’s what he’s asking for.”

McMurtry, a teacher who lives near 168 Street and Highway 10, lodged his complaint at the provincial small claims court in Surrey Friday.

In his claim, McMurtry alleges the city has done nothing to protect his family from the cannons, “even when their use contravenes the city’s own noise bylaws.”

According to the bylaw, a noise-scare device may be used to protect berry crops provided certain conditions are met, including: the device is only operated between 6:30 a.m. and noon, and 3-8 p.m. (or dawn to dusk, whichever is lesser); no more than one device is operated per two hectares of crop; the device is only used for wildlife predation management and not prior to the onset of bird damage or after the crop is harvested; single-shot devices fire no more than once per five minutes; and, the device is not located within 150 metres of a neighbouring residence within the Agricultural Land Reserve, or within 200 metres of a neighbouring residence located outside the ALR.

Offenders are liable to a fine of up to $2,000 per offence.

But McMurtry said the city has yet to issue any fines, despite concerns raised by residents over the years, and despite a 2010 decision by the Farm Industry Review Board that McMurtry says proves farmers routinely violate noise bylaws.

According to the decision – McMurtry v Sekhon, Jan. 29, 2010, posted on the FIRB website – respondents’ use and management of propane cannons was not consistent with guidelines established regarding firing frequency, monitoring and relocation of cannons on farms operating near 168 Street and Highway 10. They were ordered to modify their practices accordingly.

MacFarlane said the “very few” complaints fielded by the city are investigated and typically are referred to a liaison with the Growers’ Association of B.C., who contacts the owner of any cannons reported to be malfunctioning.

Because the cannons’ use comes under B.C.’s Right to Farm Act, there is little more the city can do, he said.

“The provincial legislation doesn’t allow us to interfere in farming operations,” he said. “It’s out of our jurisdiction.”

McMurtry blames the city’s continued inaction to enforce its own rules on officials not wanting to lose farmers’ votes.

“The city continues to duck from issues because it places electoral support from the farm industry above its own law,” he said by email to Peace Arch News.