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Compost boss gets hate mail over piles of dead pigs near Princeton

‘I’m not responsible for the pigs’ deaths. I’m responsible for the clean up’

The owner of a composting and recycling company is receiving hate mail after pictures of dead pigs at the firm’s facility near Eastgate about 50 km west of Princeton, began circulating online.

“I take this very seriously, and I do care,” said Mateo Ocejo, president of Net Zero Waste Eastgate.

“We certainly are not a polluter, and we are not a dumpsite,” he said in an interview with Black Press on Jan. 19.

More than 600,000 animals in the Abbotsford area died in catastrophic November 2021 flooding, and approximately 12,000` of those were swine.

Ocejo said he was approached by the ministry of agriculture for help.

“I’m not responsible for the pigs’ deaths. I’m responsible for the clean-up.”

According to Ocejo, who holds an engineering degree and is a director of the Compost Council of Canada, the province was out of options for disposing of deceased livestock.

“Normally they would go to a rendering facility … but these places were all completely overwhelmed,” he said.

“When the ministry called and asked if we could help, I said I could take one farm (of pigs) to Eastgate. It was incredibly hard with the weather. It’s been a nightmare. We did it because we were requested, but it’s not something we went out and sought.”

He could not give an exact number of pig carcasses that were removed but said they filled 17 water-tight trucks and weighed approximately 400 tonnes. Ocejo said if he didn’t take the pigs, they would have been sent to a landfill.

The Eastgate property, a former mushroom composting plant, and properly permitted, has been operational since the summer of last year.

The pigs were shipped from Abbotsford beginning the second week of December, said Ocejo. At that time the temperature was about -20 degrees Celsius, and the animals were frozen. They were placed on concrete pads, said Ocejo. Noting the plant’s proximity to the Similkameen River, he added the pads are more than 100 metres from the waterway, and liquid from the pads is drained directly into a contained lined pond.

The company was not able to cover the pigs, as is needed for composting, as quickly as required.

“I’ll admit to that, but that was just at the start as we worked our way through the mess. It’s not something that anyone planned for, and we were operating under extreme conditions and trying to help in a state of emergency.”

It took two weeks to get four piles of pig carcasses covered and to be mixed with the proper balance of elements including carbon and water. It takes one year to compost such carcasses.

The Upper Similkameen Indian Band (USIB) filed a complaint with the Ministry of Environment, which visited the site on Dec. 21.

“The ministry is continuing its analysis and is engaged with the local government and the Upper Similkameen Indian Band,” reads a prepared ministry statement.

“The continued health and safety of staff, residents and surrounding community remains a top priority. Once the inspection report is complete, it will be available on the Natural Resource Compliance and Enforcement Database.”

A spokesperson from the USIB was unavailable to comment at deadline.

The pictures of piles of dead pigs are distressing images, Ocejo conceded but suggested that the public is generally unfamiliar with animal composting.

“People can understand that you can compost your T-bone steak, and you can compost your bacon and bacon fat. But people see a dead pig and they think ‘well, you can’t compost that.”

Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne said he has no direct knowledge of the Net Zero Waste operation, yet he’s been bombarded with questions from residents. The facility is in the regional district; however, Black Press was unable to reach Area H director Bob Coyne before deadline.

Spencer Coyne said his biggest concern is how the events highlight a lack of communication between local governments and the province.

“It has nothing directly to do with myself, with the town, or the regional district, other than the fact that a decision was made in our watershed that did not include us.”

Going forward, local governments, or at least the USIB, should be included in these discussions, he said.

Related: Abbotsford saffron farm suffers major flood losses, but crop is in renewal

Related: Volunteers join forces to help clean up after unprecedented flooding in Abbotsford

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Andrea DeMeer

About the Author: Andrea DeMeer

Andrea is the publisher of the Similkameen Spotlight.
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