Concerns are being raised over a pile of pig carcasses that were transported from the Fraser Valley to B.C.’s Southern Interior last month.
The carcasses are located at a compost facility that’s operated by a B.C. company, around 50 kilometres from the small community of Princeton.
The pig carcasses are from the Sumas area in the Fraser Valley, where flooding late last year killed thousands of farm animals. According to sources, 630,000 chickens died, along with 12,000 pigs and 450 cows.
According to the company, Net Zero Waste, they were contacted by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Emergency Operations Centre and asked to help with the cleanup process.
In an interview with Global News, Mateo Ocejo of Net Zero Waste said, “as you can imagine, a bunch of animals rotting in standing water was polluting the animals’ drinking water and the farm.”
A professional engineer, Ocejo continued, saying several compost facilities stepped up, with Net Zero Waste taking one farm’s dead pigs, adding a few dozen farms were impacted by flooding. He claimed local rendering facilities were overwhelmed, and that other compost facilities in the region were taking dead animals to help with the cleanup.
The compost site, once a former mushroom composting site, is in a very rural area, between Princeton and Eastgate.
Thousands of farm animals die in B.C. floods
But despite being a remote site, the carcasses attracted the attention of the Upper Similkameen Indian Band.
On the First Nation’s website, the band claims it sent a team to the site and that its members “found a terrible situation with many thousands of pigs who perished in the Abbotsford floods. USIB alerted the Ministry of Environment who sent an inspection team at the end of December and found a considerable list of regulatory compliance issues.”
On Wednesday, in an email to Global News, chief Bonnie Jacobsen said, “we are horrified with the discoveries at the Net Zero Waste facility. We are calling on the province to hold operators accountable for failing to meet environmental regulatory standards, and for and failing to inform regulators or the USIB on decisions that have potentially detrimental effects on our sacred Similkameen River, and the Valley we call home.”
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In the wake of pig carcasses, the First Nation also employed a political tactic. Earlier this month, on Jan. 12, the Upper Similkameen Indian Band sent a letter to Princeton town council, requesting that town council:
“Formally rescind the town’s letter of support for Net Zero Waste Eastgate until the facility can demonstrate it is working in compliance with B.C. environmental regulations; and
“To provide a contact person who can receive updates from the USIB Natural Resources Team, and who may be invited to join a stewardship working group or otherwise contribute to responsible management of the facility, including oversite and monitoring in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment.”
The letter was made public during a town council meeting on Jan. 17, with council directing staff to investigate the request from the Upper Similkameen Indian Band in regard to Net Zero Waste Eastgate and report back to council.
In an email to Global News, the Ministry of Environment said following a complaint, staff members attended the compost facility on Dec. 21 “to assess compliance with the Environmental Management Act and the Organic Matter Recycling Regulation.”
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On Wednesday, the ministry said there are stringent requirements in B.C. around the proper disposal of animal remains in order to ensure the protection of the natural environment and safety for local communities.
“The ministry is continuing its analysis and is engaged with the local government and the Upper Similkameen Indian Band,” it said. “The continued health and safety of staff, residents and surrounding community remains a top priority.”
“We expect all animals and their remains to be treated respectfully as we continue to respond to the impacts of the flood.”
The ministry added that once the inspection report is complete, it will be available on the Natural Resource Compliance and Enforcement Database.
Three years ago, in April 2019, the Town of Princeton issued a letter of support in principle for Net Zero’s waste application to operate an organics recycling facility on an old mushroom composting site between Princeton and Eastgate.
Princeton’s mayor, Spencer Coyne, said the issue is being taken seriously, and that he’s talked to Net Zero Waste and the Ministry of Environment.
“I look forward to the ongoing communication between the town and the Ministry about this matter and the safety of our valley’s ecosystem,” Coyne said.
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Net Zero Waste says what it’s doing is safe and legal.
“We are very proud of our track record. The article that referenced us referred to us as a dumping site. That couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Ocejo.
“A dumping site would be like a landfill, where they take organics and dump it there. What we are doing is for every truck that comes in, a truck goes out. We are recycling, normally food waste, and making soil to grow more food.”
Ocejo said the majority of the company’s compost goes back to the Fraser Valley.
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“There is a regulation that governs compost in B.C. You are allowed to put your bacon, meat, cheese and dairy into compost,” he said.
“When people see a dead pig, they think that’s disgusting, but it’s no different than your bacon that has spoiled; just on a larger scale.”
Ocejo also said the company has nothing to hide, adding he’s held an open invitation to the USIB for years.
“The ministry came to the site and saw that everything was on the (concrete) pad and that there was no leaching. I believe the report will show that we are not against the regulations.”
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