The business is located on Ford Road Detour.

The business is located on Ford Road Detour.

Pitt Meadows mulls stop work order for soil mixing operation

In 1994, the Agricultural Land Commission approved the first “non-farm use” application for a topsoil screening and mixing business.

The City of Pitt Meadows wants to put a stop to a soil mixing business that’s been operating on farmland for almost 30 years on a temporary permit.

At a committee meeting Tuesday, council was reluctant to accommodate Hank Bitter’s request for his business located at 17607 Ford Road Detour to continue.

“I don’t disagree that farmers should have a way to supplement their income. However, this is an industrial operation,” said Mayor Deb Walters.

“We wouldn’t allow it to happen in town; 30 years is far too long. We don’t have personnel to go up there and monitor 24 hours a day. At this time, I am not going to support it.”

In 1994, the Agricultural Land Commission approved the first “non-farm use” application for a topsoil screening and mixing business. Since then, Bitter has reapplied for temporary permits. The most recent once expired in 2008.

“I want to stop the operation as soon as our staff can get there,” said Coun. Gwen O’Connell, who was surprised to hear the business had been operating without proper approval from the city.

Bitter, however, pleaded with council to reconsider. As a first generation cranberry farmer, Bitter uses the soil mixing business to supplement his income.

He supplies peat moss to the mushroom industry from one portion of the property. Horse and mushroom manure are mixed into some of the “best topsoil in the Fraser Valley” on another portion of the property.

“Without it, I would not farm,” Bitter told council.

Neighbours are growing increasingly tired of the trucks traveling to and from the property. In a letter to council, they voiced concerns about noise, smells and traffic, including at night.

Neighbours did not call for the business to cease operations. Instead, they asked the city to impose several strict conditions on the temporary permit, including restricting truck traffic from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., imposing a 20 km/hour speed limit on the private road, and restricting the permit to three years.

Bitter claimed he has never been approached by the city and would be willing to work with neighbours. He also promised to pay industrial taxes, if that’s what the city wants.

“I think I offer a very good service,” said Bitter, who employs 12 people.

“We have many more pluses than minuses. All of a sudden I’m bombarded with a barrage of things. Nobody has ever come to me before.”

Council will formally vote on a decision at a regular meeting next week. In the meantime, it referred the application back to the city’s agricultural advisory committee, which previously supported the operation.

City staff had recommended that council grant the temporary commercial permit, but imposed strict conditions on it, including a security of $10,000 in the form of a letter of credit.

Chief administrative officer Kim Grout said staff will not proceed with a stop work order as “more discussion on the matter is needed before this can be determined.”

City staff and neighbours plan to tour the site with Bitter.