A request for review of a confined feeding operations of 120 dairy cows plus replacements proposal west of Ponoka is in the hands of the NRCB. A decision is expected in the next four to six weeks. Illustration from the NRCB files

Special review for confined feeding operation goes to NRCB

The request for 125 cow dairy operation west of Ponoka will wait 4 to 6 weeks for a decision

A request for confined feeding operations (CFO) in Ponoka County just west of the Town of Ponoka has gone to the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) for review.

A special request for review came from Marcel Wassink, the owner of Milk and Honey Dairy, after the initial request was turned down in November.

Milk and Honey Dairy initially submitted an application to the NRCB June 29, 2017 to construct a new confined feeding operation of 120 milking cows plus replacements. The proposal sought a dairy barn at 92m by 50m with a synthetic-lined liquid manure storage of 80m by 50m by 5m deep.

According to the NRCB the first denial was made due to the plan being inconsistent with Ponoka County’s Municipal Development Plan (MDP). There were also concerns from neighbours raised, plus some recommended conditions should an approval come subsequent to a special review.

From the county’s perspective, Tom Webber, assistant CAO, spoke with the NRCB officials. He pointed out that the MDP states large CFOs are inappropriate for this area. The policy also requests the NRCB not allow CFOs when they are within two miles of the towns of Rimbey and Ponoka; in this case, the Town of Ponoka is within that limit.

“Mr. Webber explained that this setback was included in the MDP to safeguard expected growth of the town over the next 20 years,” states the first review. “He also stated that the area will be zoned commercial highway development, and no residential zoning is planned for that area.”

The report refers to the town’s annexed land, plus the highway commercial development on the west side of the Highway2 and Highway 53 interchange.

The recommendations, if following approval from the special review, include a three season construction deadline rather than one, a post construction inspection and that manure should be applied to cultivated land by injection.

Concerns were expressed by Logan Kautz, Ryan and Ashley LaFontaine and William Toporowski the first time around and again during the more recent review hearing on Jan. 29.

Each party, including Wassink were able to provide submissions to the review hearing. The Town of Ponoka provided a written submission and NRCB stated the town was unable to attend the hearing.

From Wassink’s perspective, the NRCB is the organization that really has final say in CFOs and some of the county’s policies within its MDP are requests more than law.

“The NRCB has defined the required setback from many types of residences,” adds Wassink in a written submission. “These setbacks protect neighbouring landowners from the potential negative effects of a confined feeding operation.”

For the town, the two mile radius of exclusion is supported. “The Town of Ponoka is satisfied with the Ponoka County MDP that maintains a minimum two (2) mile separation distance for CFOs from the Town of Ponoka municipal boundary,” states the town letter. “It is recommended that the two (2) mile separation distance be maintained.”

As for the affected neighbours, Kautz and Toporowski wrote against the CFO proposal in both hearings.

At the Jan. 29 hearing Kautz submitted concerns about property values dropping with an operation of this size. He also points out that the area of land is not big enough. “It should be noted that 80 acres is not nearly enough for a homestead, barn, manure pit, hay storage and 120 cows plus replacements, which could end up being closer to the 200 mark at any given time.”

Toporowski requested that the NRCB support the county’s MDP and two mile limit. “In turn this will protect the surrounding wetlands and the groundwater. All this land drains into the Battle River.”

He reiterated concerns with the size of the operation and points out there are two other CFOs relatively close to the proposed site.

NRCB stated it will take about four to six weeks before a final decision is made on this review.

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