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Fox fights against another ‘disaster’

A-1 Mushroom Farm where three workers were killed and two permanently brain damaged in 2008 is now up for sale. The owners were fined but have claimed bankruptcy. The mushroom farm is still operating, but  the composting barns  have not been used since the accident. - Monique Tamminga/Langley Times
A-1 Mushroom Farm where three workers were killed and two permanently brain damaged in 2008 is now up for sale. The owners were fined but have claimed bankruptcy. The mushroom farm is still operating, but the composting barns have not been used since the accident.
— image credit: Monique Tamminga/Langley Times

The composting barns at the Langley mushroom farm where three workers were killed and two permanently injured in 2008 have not been in use since the workplace accident, and Township Councillor Charlie Fox wants to make sure things stay that way.

The now-bankrupt A1-Mushroom Substrate Ltd., located at 23751 16 Ave., is currently up for sale and running as a mushroom growing farm. The primary mushroom composting barns and silos, which deal with the raw materials and therefore have the highest degree of potentially dangerous bio-products, are still intact.

Fox’s fear is that if the farm is sold and the composting buildings are brought up to code, they could be submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture and once again be up and running in a limited amount of time.

He brought forth a notice of motion to council on Monday evening to invite the minister of agriculture to make a public presentation to council on the inconsistencies of intensive agricultural operations. He also wants the minister to work with council to review the steps and agencies that need to sign off on these operations before they are allowed to operate.

For Fox, the notice of motion is quite personal. His wife, a high school counsellor, dealt with young Tracey Phan, whose father is now in a vegetative state because of the accident.

“I waited strategically until the coroner’s inquest was over on this particular operation for (the) reasons that it is a very sensitive issue, with very, very unfortunate consequences,” he said.

“It struck home.”

Currently, the Ministry of Agriculture regulations allow intensive agricultural operations to exist in all agricultural areas, including small acreage rural properties and those in close proximity to urban areas, and they can be located anywhere in the ALR, Fox states in his motion.

A recent coroner’s inquest into the mushroom farm deaths also confirmed that the Township never issued a permit for the facility to operate and was, in fact, seeking a court order to have the facility shut down.

“I think it’s demonstrated by this particular operation that was in the news, that if the best practices are not followed to the ‘T,’ it’s a disaster,” Fox said.

“The people of south Langley do not want this composting operation to reinvent itself and come online which presently could happen based on the Ministry of Agriculture’s standards and policies relative to intensive agriculture.”

With a small amendment made to the wording of the motion, it was carried unanimously by council.

Meanwhile, the owners of the mushroom farm have declared bankruptcy and the court-imposed fines have not been paid, say the victim’s families and B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair, who has been supporting the families and testified at the Coroner’s Inquest into the farm deaths.

A judge imposed fines totaling $350,000 on the owners of the farm, including $200,000 to the now bankrupt A-1 Mushroom Substratum Ltd. and $120,000 to H.V. Truong Ltd.

Owner Ha Qua Truong was given a personal fine of $15,000 and his wife, Van Thi Troung, $5,000. Joint owner Thinh Huu Doan was to pay $10,000.

Last month, a coroner’s jury made numerous recommendations aimed at WorkSafe BC after a series of safety mistakes led to the death of the three farm workers of Vietnamese background and serious, permanent injuries to two others in 2008.

The three workers died and two others have severe brain injuries as a result of toxic gases being released in a confined brown water shed, where a worker unclogged a pipe stuffed with straw and chicken manure.

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