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Thousands of pigs that drowned on B.C. farm no threat to environment


The pigs were among approximately 600,000 animals that died on Sumas Prairie in late November

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Thousands of pigs that drowned on a Fraser Valley farm during last year’s flood are now being turned into compost at a facility near Princeton, the owner of which firmly denies allegations the carcasses pose a threat to the environment.

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The pigs, which were among approximately 600,000 animals that died on Sumas Prairie in late November, were trucked to the Net Zero Waste Eastgate facility about 50 kilometres west of Princeton in early December.

That drew the attention of the Upper Similkameen Indian Band, which dispatched staff to investigate.

“On Dec. 10, a team of USIB natural resource staff visited the site and were alarmed to find what is estimated to be many thousands of deceased and decomposing pig carcasses,” Chief Bonnie Jacobsen wrote in a letter to the Town of Princeton that was attached to the agenda package for Monday’s council meeting.

“In addition to the massive number of dead animals, we also found that leachate and contaminated water was flowing directly from the facility into the receiving environment near the Similkameen River.”

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The company denies that.

“I just want to be very clear that we are not polluting,” said Net Zero Waste owner Mateo Ocejo in a telephone interview Wednesday.

“We have monitoring wells right on our site.”

But he doesn’t deny the scene was grisly.

“If you look at thousands of dead pigs in a pile, of course it’s going to look like a horror movie,” said Ocejo, who’s an engineer by trade and insists his company plays by the rules.

Net Zero Waste, he continued, took the carcasses at the request of the B.C. Agriculture Ministry and City of Abbotsford’s emergency operations centre, which were unable to find any rendering facilities or landfills that would accept the dead animals as cleanup efforts began.

The carcasses were frozen when they arrived on site in 17 truckloads and placed on a concrete-lined pad, according to Ocejo. The carcasses remained frozen until they could be mixed with other organic material and covered with special tarps under which they are now decomposing.

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In about two months, fresh organic material will be added to the mix and left to compost for another year or so, before the finished product is ready for sale for agricultural use.

“It’s a very unique situation. It’s not something that’s going to be ongoing,” said Ocejo.

Net Zero Waste’s facility in Eastgate, one of five in the company’s stable, was once used to produce mushroom compost, but the operation went dormant several years ago.

Net Zero Waste, in partnership with the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, was awarded a $4-million government grant in late 2019 to upgrade the facility so that it can receive food waste from around B.C.

Ocejo said the upgrades were stalled by COVID, but the facility had enough organic material and other supplies on site to be able to safely handle the pig carcasses.

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He plans to visit the Eastgate facility on Friday and is inviting people with concerns about the pig carcasses to have a look for themselves.

The USIB, which asked the Town of Princeton to rescind its support for the facility, sent its investigators’ findings to the B.C. Ministry of Environment.

The ministry confirmed in a statement Wednesday its staff visited the site Dec. 21 to assess the facility’s compliance with the Environmental Management Act and the Organic Matter Recycling Regulation.

Once complete, the inspection report will be available on the Natural Resource Compliance and Enforcement Database (NRCED) at https://nrced.gov.bc.ca/ .

“The unprecedented impacts of the recent flood events are still evident,” the statement concluded. “In particular, the impact on agricultural operators is beyond words. We expect all animals and their remains to be treated respectfully as we continue to respond.”

Read more Penticton Daily Herald news here

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