Charges against Mount Royal farmer dropped

Environmental charges against a Mount Royal farmer were dismissed yesterday in a Summerside court.

Warren Ellis was charged with 4 counts under the Environmental Protection Act

Environmental charges against a Mount Royal farmer were dismissed Tuesday in a Summerside court.

Warren Ellis, 58, faced four charges under the provincial Environmental Protection Act following an investigation into a fish kill last summer. 

At no time was Ellis accused of killing the fish.

Rather, this case focused only on the tillage practices used in his fields.

Last summer, hundreds of fish turned up dead in a tributary of the Trout River.

Following that, provincial agriculture and environment officials investigated.

Ellis and another farmer, Avard Smallman, were then charged with violating buffer zone regulations between a waterway and their fields.

Smallman pleaded guilty last fall to not having an adequate buffer zone between his fields and a watercourse, and was fined $3,000.

In court Tuesday, Crown prosecutor John Diamond called five investigators to testify, and the court heard inspectors searched the fields owned by Ellis, adjacent to the stream where the fish were found.

They found the plowed potato fields had no grassed headland, intended to reduce soil erosion after heavy rains.

In cross examination, defence lawyer Jim Gormley pointed to sections of the act that states there must be a 15-metre buffer zone between fields with row crops — for example potatoes — and streams or water courses.

However, Ellis’ fields had 30 metres of treed land between the fields and the rivers, Gormley argued. Trees are also considered a buffer, he said, and called for immediate dismissal of the charges.

Judge Jeff Lantz agreed.

"There are an awful lot of farmers out there that are going far above and beyond the required legislation and having not just 10 metres of grass, but 15, 20, 30 metres of grass, to make sure these things don’t happen," said Dale Cameron of Trout Unlimited Canada.

Court heard that Ellis filed an environmental farm plan for his operation in 2003. He also donated 14 hectares of land to the local watershed group in 1992, for conservation purposes.

Environment Canada is still continuing its investigation into the causes of the fish kill, and federal charges are still possible.