Ponoka County residents divided on farmland uses

There were about 150 people at the county’s meeting related to reducing confined feeding operations.

Ponoka County residents are split on how confined feeding operations (CFOs) should be legislated.

The county held a public meeting on Aug. 13 on its proposed exclusion zones to CFOs in two key areas — Morningside, meeting in the evening and northwest of the Town of Ponoka, meeting in the afternoon.

The meetings showed a need for balanced discussion.

In the afternoon meeting CAO Charlie Cutforth has received quite a bit of input from county residents on the proposed plan. The county has since cancelled a public hearing related to the proposals.

“The concern addressed to the county has consistently been the concentration of facilities that already exist in this area,” said Cutforth of the reason behind the proposed amendments to the county’s Municipal Development Plan (MDP).

Those proposals provide certain exclusion zones for CFOs, however, the proposed areas have been reduced in size.

“The challenge is to try to find a way to balance all that so people can live together in peace,” said Cutforth.

The meeting opened up to comments, which showed passion and frustration on both sides of the argument. Some residents feel this is an attack on the agricultural industry while others feel there are too many intensive livestock operations in the area.

Doug Hart questioned the areas outside the exclusion zones. He wanted to know if it’s “open season” for CFOs in parts that are not outlined, to which Cutforth replied “yes.” Farmers looking to expand operations in other parts of the county would be allowed to do so with applications going to the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB).

Cutforth said that Lacombe County also has quite a few CFOs in its boundary lines. “But they haven’t experienced a concentration issue, from the community’s point of view, that we have.”

One resident, Tom Kootstra, who is also the chairperson of Alberta Milk, suggests that the county is an agricultural community. “Agricultural practices will have an impact on our neighbours. That’s just the reality.”

“If our neighbours aren’t comfortable with the impact of agriculture, they can choose to go somewhere else,” said Kootstra. The comment drew ire and applause from attendees.

Kootstra then asked council to consider its priorities.

Lynn Martens responded to Kootstra. “The last comment I think doesn’t do any of us any good. We have to live together.”

She suggests people shouldn’t have to move because a CFO, something they may not want near their land, is created. Martens also worries that it would affect the value of her land.

The question of financial impact

One woman, Karen Pierik, feels many local businesses rely on local farmers. “And when the county puts in arbitrary restrictions on farming, it’s these local businesses, in addition to farmers, that the county is hurting.”

“Has the county evaluated the economic impacts…this will have on our ‘open-for-business’ policy in the county?”

In response, Cutforth, said the county has not, however, “if the existing operations can expand, new operations have lots of room in the county in which to locate; there’s an abundance of farms within this county that has no development on it,” explained Cutforth.

From an environmental perspective, Joanne McMillan, speaking for the Friends of Chain Lakes, said this is a difficult issue that needs planning. “I think the smaller farmers have been lost in this discussion completely.”

“To voice the idea that economics is only dependant on the larger (farms) and the more one has, is perhaps a spacious argument,” said McMillan, adding that smaller farms also add to the economy of a town. She added that the Friends of Chain Lakes endorses leaving the good land for farmers.

Third-generation farmer Deb Stott said she is directly affected by the number of CFOs in her area. “I can’t walk almost any direction without hitting a CFO.”

“It isn’t just about acreages versus CFOs. We’re farmers too.”

Read: Ponoka County slows changes to CFO plans

The question of legislation

Marcel Wassink suggests Ponoka County setting guidelines is a duplication of work already handled by the NRCB. He pointed out that the agency has specific regulations and takes into account distances and setbacks to zoned regions.

“Do you feel like you’re possibly doing in the county what the province already has?” asked Wassink.

Cutforth responded the county looks at the issue the same way.

However, there has been no action from the province dealing with the increase of CFOs in the past decade so the county has reluctantly taken some action, said Cutforth. “We’re trying to tip-toe through a situation, that frankly, I agree belongs with the province and NRCB.”

To handle the question of increased numbers of CFOs, Hart suggested residents should pressure the NRCB to review CFO applications not on their own but as a whole.

Dennis Hahn also spoke to the plan. “I feel it’s a privilege to live in the county.”

He suggests living on an acreage also means living in and around farms, which is something residents need to accept. He asked about how country residential-zoned land is included in the plan, suggesting that country residential appears to set the boundaries for CFOs. “How many country residentials are in the county as opposed to other counties?” Hahn asked.

Cutforth says the answer to country residential development numbers is a mixed bag and it’s difficult to determine.

The evening meeting highlighted similar issues with the same people attending that meeting. As this was an information meeting no decisions were made.

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