CHARLES TWEED/Ponoka News
Chain Lakes will remain free of confined feeding operations (CFO) for the foreseeable future.
On May 18 the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) overturned the ruling of Francisco Echegaray, its own approval officer, to allow a new 95,000 poultry broiler operation to be built 0.8 of a mile from Chain Lakes.
The operation had been opposed by many of the residents of Chain Lakes but the decision hinged on Ponoka County’s municipal development plan (MDP) which states that “The County requests the NRCB not to allow new or expanded CFOs in the following areas: land within one mile of Chain Lakes.”
“We are very pleased that the NRCB respected our planning documents,” said Ponoka County CAO Charlie Cutforth. “It hasn’t always necessarily happened that way in the past and we think this is a fair decision.”
A meeting held at the Ponoka Golf Club on March 23 saw eight parties file requests for the board review of the decision to approve the operation.
Many of the parties were residents of Gull Lake and spoke of the effects the CFO would have on the area but the board’s decision focused on whether the application from Zealand Farms, owned by Henk and Gerrie Krijger, was consistent with the MDP and if it wasn’t, whether the board would disregard the plan and allow the barn regardless.
In the decision summary from the NRCB, they state, “Having considered the evidence and the parties’ argument…the board concludes that the Zealand Farms application is inconsistent with Policy 2.3 of the Ponoka County MDP.”
The NRCB explains that from the beginning the CFO was located within the one mile radius set out by the county but that the approval officer inferred from the use of the word ‘request’ that he is allowed to use discretion when applying the MDP.
“The Board does not agree with the Approval Officer’s interpretation of the word ‘requests’ in Policy 2.3. In the Board’s view, the MDP’s use of the word ‘requests’ is acceptable in these circumstances where a municipality is communicating its preferred policy outcome to a statutory decision-maker, the NRCB.”
The board felt the wording was not only correct but also ‘courteous.”
“As stated by one directly affected party, ‘It seems to me request is the only thing that you can do when you ask for something that’s not in your jurisdiction or authority.”
The second question was whether the board should exercise its authority under the Agriculture Operation Practices Act (AOPA) to have regard but not be bound by the MDP.
The reasoning for not disregarding Ponoka County’s MDP seems to be the same reason the county opposed the barn — location.
“The Board notes that Ponoka County is located in the corridor between Edmonton and Calgary that has and will continue to experience significant growth pressures…The Board acknowledges that the targeting of areas within the municipality for development of small parcel or acreage development around land that has recreational potential reflects good planning.”
Another cause for the Board’s decision may have occurred during the site visit on April 28 during which time the panel members “surveyed the general lay of the land,” and “observed three seasonal feeding and bedding sites…and water running in the general area.”
The decision is considered a victory for the Friends of Chain Lakes, a group of residents trying to preserve the lake in its natural state.
It is also a victory for the county and for that matter all counties that have developed plans on a local level based on the needs of the area only to see the NRCB overrule their planning documents. Cutforth was satisfied with the decision but did want to emphasize the county is agriculture first.
“The county is an agriculture community and we support CFOs and every aspect of farming in general, however we just do not believe that a lake that attracts people is compatible with some of these major-sized facilities,” said Cutforth, adding that the process was handled with class and consideration from start to finish.
“They (the Krijgers) have a beautiful facility with their existing operation and they are excellent people. It’s unfortunate that this situation has occurred, however, we will support them in other locations.”