British Columbia

Foul stink persists in Surrey despite fines, investigations, and more than 140 complaints

Much has changed in Cynthia Adams’ south Surrey neighbourhood in recent years, but one thing remains the same: it often stinks like a mixture of sewage and rotten eggs.

2 years after CBC reported on complaints about a stench from a farm, neighbours say it still stinks

Metro Vancouver has received more than 140 complaints since 2018 about an odour that seems to be coming from a farm in south Surrey. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Much has changed in Cynthia Adams' south Surrey neighbourhood in recent years, but one thing remains the same: it often stinks like a mixture of sewage and rotten eggs.

Metro Vancouver has received more than 140 complaints since CBC ran a story about a foul odour apparently coming from a farm on 172 Street and 8 Avenue.

Five separate government entities are aware of the stench, but it remains, says Adams.

"The smell is so bad, people are calling the fire department," she said. "It smells like hydrogen sulphide."

Adams says government agencies don't seem to be working together to solve the problem.

"It's been a battle," Adams said. "The process has been very arduous."

Eric Stausgaard surveys the Little Campbell River where his son fishes in 2018. (Christer Waara/CBC)

'Working hard'

J. Baird Cattle Company has operated on the farm on 8 Avenue for decades, while a second family company ran a soil blending operation on the same lot.

J. Baird Cattle Co. has now taken full control of the land and is phasing out the topsoil business, which according to a City of Surrey report released last year, includes mixing mushroom manure with shredded wallboard product.

Company director Sandra Baird says she's doing her best to address the odour.

"We have been working hard to comply with any environmental issues that have been brought to our attention, and to get along with our neighbours," she said in an email.

"We are trying to continue a farming operation in this Surrey area, locked in ALR [Agricultural Land Reserve], while being surrounded by housing and traffic."

The complaints, however, haven't slowed down and they now involve a second property.

The family-run J. Baird Cattle Co. was founded by James Baird who started feeding cattle in the 1940s as a teenager. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Second property

The Ministry of Enivronment confirms the topsoil business has moved to a lot across the street and that's now the site causing the stench.  

According to corporate documents, the topsoil business is run by Baird's brother, Vern Baird.

Sandra Baird says she is no longer involved in the topsoil business and has no control over the operation across the street.

Vern Baird declined CBC's request for an interview.

Metro Vancouver, which encourages people who smell foul odours to call its tip line at 604-436-6777, has the power to issue tickets or prosecute companies that produce noxious smells.

Ray Robb, who handles environmental enforcement issues for Metro Vancouver, says it's unlikely to issue tickets until the province determines whether the topsoil business is operating without proper permits.

"If [the Ministry] determines that is a non-farm use, which I believe they will, then we are free to use our tools."

Eric Stausgaard, who owns a business in the area, has asked the Agricultural Land Commission to issue a stop work order.

"Even though things are moving, it's incredibly slow and everybody is suffering," he said.

"That's the frustrating thing."

Eric Stausgaard and Cynthia Adams go over over documents in the kitchen of Adams' south Surrey home. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

'I am mystified'

After performing two inspections last year, the B.C. Ministry of Environment has notified the topsoil operation that it will be fined for Environmental Management Act violations, including improper storage of manure and unauthorized discharge of leachate.

The business will have an opportunity to respond before a penalty is issued.

Adams says the process needs to be simplified.

"It's four years that we've been working at it as a group," she said, referring to the Facebook group that community members use to document odours, dates and possible health effects.

"I am mystified at how long it has taken."

CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.

 

About the Author

Jesse Johnston worked in private radio from 2004 to 2014 in Vancouver, Red Deer and Calgary. He spent the next five years based out of Surrey (his hometown) as CBC's South of the Fraser reporter until he joined the Impact Team in 2019. Jesse is a two-time recipient of the RTDNA Dave Rogers Award for Best Short Radio Feature. He loves radio, running and dogs. He also loves the Detroit Lions, but if you follow him on Twitter, you already knew that. @Jesse_Johnston

With files from Paisley Woodward

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