Buurma backs down from fertilizer fight

FILE PHOTO A pile of biosolids in Dawn-Euphemia.

An Alvinston area farmer’s fight with two Lambton County municipalities is over.

David Buurma of Buurma Acres went to the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board in April 2020 filing claims against Brooke-Alvinston, Dawn-Euphemia and Warwick Township. The communities all had bylaws limiting the director of Lasalle Agri from storing the biosolid fertilizer made from human waste on fields in the region for extended periods of time. There was also concerns about the way it was being stored in a bunker on a Buurma Acres farm on Churchill Line.

Buurma first took Brooke-Alvinston to the board first arguing it was a normal farm practice to store fertilizer on the land and that there was nothing wrong with the bunker on Churchill Line.

But the board found while centralized storage of fertilizer was a normal practice, there facility Buurma was using wasn’t adequate and didn’t follow the basic guidelines of keeping the product dry in storage.

It ordered the organization to fix the building to reduce the possibility of odours escaping and spontaneous combustion of the material.

Lawyers for Brooke-Alvinston called it a win, hoping Buurma Acres would do more to eliminate the odour which led to complaints from neighbours.

It was an expensive battle. The Independent calculated that by May 2021, Brooke-Alvinston had already spent $128,260.72 defending itself at the NFPPB. Warwick had also incurred $12,500 in costs. Brooke-Alvinston, Warwick and Dawn-Euphemia, who were all advised Buurma Acres had filed cases before the NFPPB, were to split those bills three ways once the legal proceedings were over.

But even with the ruling from the board, Buurma had not exhausted his legal options yet.

Lawyers for Buurma filed written arguments to the board asking it to order Brooke-Alvinston to pay $125,000 of its $173,121 legal bill.

Buurma’s lawyers said the municipality “made a clear and concerted effort to malign the character of David Buurma as a principal of LaSalle Agri Inc. It is alleged that this started before the hearing and came out further during the course of the hearing,” adding “there was an attempt to ‘demonize’ the fertilizer itself.”

The municipality denied those claims. And Board Chair Glenn Walker said “there was no attempt to malign the character of David Buurma personally; and if there was, there is no evidence to suggest that this was done maliciously.”

Buurma’s lawyers also said the municipality should have paid legal costs because it failed to call evidence from anyone with farming experience or about concerns about the environment, or expert witness about the odour concerns and the potential fire hazard.

Walker said Brooke-Alvinston’s choices in defending itself “does not represent clearly unreasonable, frivolous, vexatious or bad faith conduct.” He ordered Buurma Acres to pay the municipality $1,000 to offset its legal costs for the appeal.

Walker added at the time that added in any future cases the costs would be “more realistic.”

On Jan. 10, Buurma’s lawyers quietly withdrew the appeals they had filed against Dawn-Euphemia and Warwick Township, seemingly ending the long fight over the smelly fertilizer issue.

Buurma has until the end of May to complete the changes ordered by the board at the Churchill Line site.