CHARLES TWEED/Ponoka News
This isn’t the wild west anymore — plainly said — but that’s the message Ponoka County is sending current and future landowners in the county.
“So you are trying to cap my farm from growth?” asked Cor Haagsma, who owns a dairy farm north of the Battle River licensed for 400 head.
“Yes,” replied Charlie Cutforth, CAO of Ponoka County.
The Battle River Valley Residential Study, which identifies land suitable for residential subdivisions in the county, has been met with opposition from both confined feeding operation (CFO) owners and potential residential developers.
Ponoka County held a public hearing June 14, giving anyone affected by the study a chance to ask questions.
“What we are looking at here is trying to define an area where the county would be willing to at least look at proposals for residential acreages overlooking the river valley,” said Bob Riddett, a planner with West Central Planning Agency. “Of course no one would be forced to develop. What we’re doing is telling landowners that if you are interested, if you’re inside this area, it’s probably going to be fairly easy and if you’re outside this area it’s going to be fairly difficult.”
The plan effectively attempts to create compatibility in an area that is desirable for farm and acreage use.
The public hearing brought forward changes to the study since the county held an open house where 22 people gave feedback.
There were three major changes to the study.
First, every CFO was provided an area or setback from future residential areas to protect CFO owners. Every operation was treated as a 400-head dairy operation, even those well under that number of cattle, to allow for expansion.
Second, single lot subdivisions would be instituted where the land is being farmed up to the riverbanks.
Third, land near Highway 2 purchased for the intent of gravel excavation could not be re-developed until the gravel is removed and the land restored.
“The main thing that’s going to limit the amount of development is setback from livestock operations,” said Riddett.
Josh Lubach owns a CFO near Battle River and was happy to see the setbacks were larger than the previous draft but still had concerns about the compatibility of CFOs and residential acreages.
“A lot of land that doesn’t necessarily have a circle around it is being used for manure spreading and we know what it’s like to have acreages around when you start manure spreading,” said Lubach. “I think as a group we’re still fairly disappointed that our area for development is still this big for as many CFOs as there are in this area. How are you planning to deal with the complaints that are going to come?”
Riddett said operators are protected under the Agriculture Operations Practices Act (AOPA).
“If you’re going to be applying manure, say twice a year, on land and working it in then that is something acreage people are just going to have to live with,” said Riddett. Don Cameron owns land suitable for residential development and was planning on subdivision.
The blanket 400-head setback means the amount of his land originally acceptable for residential acreages has now been diminished.
“I don’t think this is all that fair to just make these blanket statements that give other people more land at the expense of their neighbours,” said Cameron. “When we bought this property, years ago, we bought it with the idea that this is good for nothing but (residential development). It is prime development land…I’ve owned this land for over 40 years and I’ve been counting on this and now it is slowly being taken away.”
There was also concern about setbacks around an elk farm. One developer asked why, if there was no provincial regulation requiring setbacks around elk farms, the study had suggested an 800-metre buffer.
“You don’t want to have acreages and kids on dirt bikes and ATVs right across the fence from the elk because they don’t get along very well so you need some sort of setback,” said Riddett. “I came up with the 800 metres, if someone can suggest a better number, please do so.”
Another concern centred around septic tanks and how sewage would be handled close to the river.
“Who will be looking at the septic systems?” asked Haagsma. “You are sure there won’t be any contamination from septic fields going into the river.”
Cutforth said the province regulates septic systems.
“I think when you’re spreading manure on the surface and you’re complaining about a few septic tanks, is kind of calling the pot calling the kettle black,” said Allen Leighton.
“We have a permit for 400 cows and on the map you gave everyone an opportunity to expand to 400 cows. Since we have a permit for 400 cows you are trying to cap our growth in the future,” reiterated Haagsma. “It should be reasonable for us to stay in that area to farm and have growth in the future too.”
Josh Lubach, who owns a CFO near Battle River, echoed those sentiments.
“Nobody knows what the future holds. When we came here in ’94 I don’t think we thought we would be this big at this time and I’d sure hate to write down a number,” said Lubach.
Which is exactly what the study will try to change. It won’t predict the future but it will present well-defined guidelines for those wishing to live and farm in the area.
“The county is in a tough spot trying to referee this stuff,” said Cutforth. “We intentionally undertook this study because we thought that at least people on both sides of the argument should have the ability to see what the area potential holds for them.”
The plan is again being revised taking into account the concerns from rate-payers before being adopted as policy.