Tracy Holmes photo Shari Tompe (standing) gives evidence at the Environmental Appeal Board hearing Friday at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel.

‘This is our everything’: South Surrey farmer

Pumpkin patch operator fears long-term impacts of emissions from galvanizing plant

A longtime farmer and a retired doctor were among the latest appellants to testify at a hearing contesting an air-quality permit issued to a hot-dip galvanizing plant in South Surrey.

Shari Tompe, of Hazelmere Pumpkin Patch, and Dr. Murray McFadden – representing South Surrey couple Inga and Carl Thielemann – addressed the Environmental Appeal Board panel on Friday and Monday, respectively, sharing their reasons for opposing the permit granting Ebco Metal Finishing LP permission to discharge contaminants.

For Tompe, the concerns ranged from the potential impact of emissions on her family’s crops, local wildlife and future area residents, to the effect that word of emissions from an industrial plant near the property could have on education and agro-tourism aspects of her business.

“We are not just a farm that’s producing merely for food,” Tompe told the three-member EAB panel.

“One of my very, very main concerns about having any industry that are possibly polluting in our area… is public perception.”

Hazelmere Pumpkin Patch is located in the 18500-block of 20 Avenue, just four blocks south of Ebco’s galvanizing plant, located at 18699 25 Ave.

Tompe said the farm has been in her family for more than three generations, and sees an estimated 20,000 visitors annually, including up to 700 school children daily and “thousands” of people just in October.

While her family is “very careful” with what they do on the property to minimize environmental impacts, she said social media could change the public’s view “like that.”

“We can lose our customer base.”

Despite concerns that giving evidence at the EAB hearing herself could exacerbate that risk, Tompe said she chose to as the farm “is my livelihood.”

“This is our everything, and I can’t lose that,” she said.

Tompe also noted that two aquifers her family draws from for the farm are interconnected with the Brookswood aquifer over which the Ebco plant is located; and one is “number one” on a list of B.C.’s 20 priority areas for aquifer characteristics.

And, she expressed concern that residents’ fears have not been taken seriously.

“I feel like we have been discredited in our belief that this area is worth protecting.”

Area residents first contacted Peace Arch News about the plant in early 2015, citing concerns about such a facility being built so close to East Kensington Elementary, as well as with the lack of public notice around it.

City council approved a bylaw regulating the 25 Avenue site for “light impact industry” in November 2012, following a public hearing, and a development permit was issued in July 2014.

In May 2016, the EAB issued a stay of a short-term permit that had been granted Ebco by Metro Vancouver, citing concerns ranging from the potential adverse effect of emissions on human, animal and plant life, to the potential impact on a food-distribution society.

READ MORE: South Surrey galvanizing fumes halted

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In April 2017, Surrey council voted that going forward, businesses that need an air-quality permit to operate would not be able to set up shop in a 15.3-acre business park proposed for immediately north of the galvanizing plant.

A year later, Metro gave Ebco a 15-year permit to discharge contaminants including zinc, nickel and particulate matter.

Ebco officials have maintained that residents need not be concerned about pollution associated with the plant’s operations.

“As far as I’m concerned… machine shops or other shops would emit more pollution than we have,” owner Hugo Eppich told PAN in January 2015.

In cross-examination Friday, Greg Nash, Metro’s lawyer, asked Tompe if she was aware of and concerned about other contaminants in the area, including ammonia and wood-burning emissions. He also highlighted the number of vehicles that her business draws to the area, and their relative contribution to emissions.

In giving evidence Monday, McFadden reviewed 70 slides that he’d prepared for the hearing, touching on everything from drainage around the plant, sampling results and reports that note unconfined aquifers – such as the Brookswood aquifer – are more vulnerable to contamination.

McFadden also cited an “absence of appreciation” for the aquifer in Metro’s consideration of the air-quality permit for Ebco, noting it “raises a serious question about critical thinking in the Metro assessment process.”

McFadden’s comments regarding ailments reported by the Thielemanns faced objection from Ebco lawyer Nicholas Hughes, who described it as “based entirely on hearsay.”

After conferring, the panel agreed they’d have to recognize McFadden as an expert in order to admit the comments, however, as he was representing the Thielemanns, “we are unable to do so.”

The hearing is scheduled through today (April 30).



tholmes@peacearchnews.com

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Inside the Ebco hot dip galvanizing plant, during an April 2016 tour. Area residents and environmental groups are contesting an air-quality permit issued for the South Surrey facility. (File photo)

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