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Trouble brewing on Saltspring Island Add to ...

Saltspring Island has a new coffee roaster in the works, and Robert Bateman is steamed.

Mr. Bateman, the famous artist and environmentalist, has joined island neighbours to oppose expansion plans by the Salt Spring Coffee Co., a carbon-neutral, fair-trade operation that's an entrepreneurial success story for the area.

The local company hopes to consolidate its two Saltspring Island buildings - a roaster and an office - into a new 1,115-square-metre operation on one hectare of land a half-kilometre from Ford Lake.

But residents who once praised the green ethos of the company are now turning on it. They fear acrid smoke and nasty odours produced by a larger facility would offend those nearby, and settle over tiny Ford Lake, near the home of Mr. Bateman.

Now, as the star resident of an island that bills itself as an artists' haven, Mr. Bateman is leading the backlash against the expanding company.

"It's nice to have organic, fair-trade coffee. It's not a question of what, it's a question of where," Mr. Bateman said. "The way the wind goes, the smoke, noxious and carcinogenic [pollution]will settle on the lake. ... I'm told the smells are terrible."

But Mr. Bateman has chosen to pick a green fight with what may seem an odd opponent; Salt Spring Coffee Co. has long been praised for its environmental record. The David Suzuki Foundation certified it as a carbon-neutral operation, and holds the coffee company up as an example for other businesses to emulate.

The company's founder and president, Mickey McLeod, believes some of Saltspring's 10,000 residents sought to chase away his expanding operation, in spite of its local roots, as it outgrew their idyllic island's image as an artists' retreat. He hopes to stay.

"They don't want it in their yard, or some people think we've got too big and should leave the island."

While Salt Spring Coffee Co.'s existing, smaller roasting facility has generated few complaints, the new facility won't be the polluter residents expect, Mr. McLeod said.

He said the new building will use a thermal oxidizer, a device that burns off the solid and liquid particles produced when raw coffee beans are roasted. Odour and soot would be eliminated, and hot air would be the only byproduct, he said.

"A single wood-burning stove does more damage than our operation. Ask Mr. Bateman how many wood-burning stoves are in his neighbourhood," he said.

Mr. Bateman is joined by neighbours who have battled the expansion, which still must get rezoning approval from a local Island Trust. Resident Merv Walde would like to see Salt Spring Coffee Co. leave its namesake home altogether, saying further expansion and export could affect local watersheds.

"They should move off the island. They're supplying coffee across Canada. They supply Costco. It's not really suitable for Saltspring Island," said Mr. Walde, who owns two hectares of land near the proposed site.

Mr. Walde believes rezoning for the new building is "going to lead to sprawl."

The company, founded in 1996, nevertheless hopes its new site will be approved. It would process about 363,000 kilograms of organic, fair-trade beans a year - too much for those residents who have now turned their backs on a company that bears their island's name.

"It was our pride and joy," Mr. Bateman said. "Now, it exports coffee."

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