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Oct. 19, 2021 | Tuesday
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Residents and growers at an impasse on bird banger noise
York Road residents Jim Fisher and Dr. Yüksel Ören say they aren’t happy with the “excessive noise” of the propane cannons. (Brittany Carter/Niagara Now)

York Road residents and owners of Baker Estate Vineyards are at an impasse about the use of propane cannons on neighbouring farms.

The propane-fired bird-scaring cannons, often referred to as bird bangers, fire cannon-like sounds periodically throughout the day to control crop damage caused by birds and pests.

Residents like Jim Fisher and Dr. Yüksel Ören said they aren’t happy with the “excessive noise” of the propane cannons used by nearby farms and are left “feeling hopeless” with the situation, which they said they have dealt with for three years since the Bakers began using the cannons on the 1850 York Rd. property, and another on Sheppard Crescent.

Under guidelines set by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, bird bangers are a permissible sound and can be fired no earlier than half an hour before sunrise to no later than half an hour past sunset.

Fisher said between the three cannons on nearby farms, one is fired at least every five minutes throughout the day, if not more frequently.

“This is enough to cause noise-induced hearing impairment, when you’re hearing it all bloody day like we are. I don’t want to have to wear hearing aids until I absolutely have to, and this is not helping,” Fisher said.

Jason Baker, owner of Baker Estate Vineyards, said the York Road residents had a chance to address their concerns last year during a scheduled hearing with the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board, but after the prehearing they withdrew, and he said he hasn’t heard any complaints from them since.

Fisher said the group of residents withdrew from the hearing because they didn’t have the resources to move forward.

“There were just a lot of health issues that were impacting the people involved, so we got together and said we can’t continue with this. We have health issues that we’re dealing with, and we know what the outcome is going to be,” Fisher said, adding that he believed the board “held all the cards.”

Fisher said the board is managed by farmers and he believes it puts the agricultural community’s interests first, and said the group felt they wouldn’t be properly represented at a hearing by the board.

Baker said the issue of the bird bangers has been ongoing for several years and he experienced vandalism of the propane cannons on his property in August 2017.

Police verified that a report of vandalism was filed on Aug. 28, 2017, in the area of York Road and Concession 2 Road in NOTL. No charges were laid.

Though Baker said he hasn’t heard complaints from the neighbours since the hearing last year, he did receive a letter from one family thanking him for dropping one of the two cannons on the farm near Sheppard Crescent after the 2018 prehearing.

“At the motion hearing you asked us to give you a chance, and you have proven that growers and residents can live together in harmony.

Ultimately we would prefer the quieter life we used to have, but one can’t have everything, and if you keep to the volume and numbers of explosions that are current, we will not be complaining,” Sheppard Crescent resident Win Laar said in the letter addressed to Baker on behalf of Kal Laar and Mike and Pat Kostecki. Baker provided a copy of the letter to The Lake Report.

Laar said in an email response that although Baker lowered the number of cannons being used the noise “continues to be an irritant.”

The reduction in cannons, which were also moved further from his residence, means that he is now able to go outside safely, he said.

The residents said that the noise of the cannons being fired constantly so close to their homes could have caused potential hearing damage.

Though he said they are still being fired past the times set in the ministry’s guidelines.

“The noise continues to be an irritant, especially when it is now used beyond the times given in the guidelines. We know from conversations with other growers that it is possible to grow grapes without using cannons at all, and still have a profitable operation,” Laar said.

Ören suggested the use of netting as a quiet alternative to the propane cannons.

“I am not against the growers themselves. They should use non-sonic devices to protect their harvest. In the meantime, the ministry should provide grants to growers to substitute bird cannons with netting,” Ören said.

Counc. Stuart McCormack put forth a motion last year to address regulating the use of bird bangers in the future and to discuss less-intrusive means of crop protection. The motion wasn’t passed.

Lord Mayor Betty Disero said she sat with Fisher and some of the York Road residents last year to listen to their concerns.

She said upon completing her own research into the use of propane cannons she discovered it was a provincial issue.

“I don’t believe at this point that there’s anything that the town can do. I know a couple members of council are still researching it. I came to the conclusion that it was a (ministry) issue,” Disero said.

Counc. Clare Cameron said she has spoken with the York Road residents but agreed that the regulation of propane cannons for agriculture isn’t a municipal issue at this time.