A County of Wetaskiwn couple who developed an unauthorized motocross track on their land applied to have the land rezoned from agriculture to recreational after neighbouring landowners began complaining about the track. Wetaskiwin county council denied the request at its April 14 meeting.
The land included in the request was approximately 78 acres and is classified at 40 per cent soil quality. In the County of Wetaskiwin 30 per cent is considered good agricultural land.
Assistant CAO Rod Hawken says a key part of council’s decision is taking into account the impact the track would have on surrounding agricultural operations.
Nearby landowners attended the public hearing with only applicants Andrew and Erika Branco and Andrew’s father, City of Wetaskiwin councillor Joe Branco, speaking in favour of the endeavour.
Andrew told council he and his wife bought the ag land several years ago with the sole intention of developing the track. He says there is no place in the county for motocross enthusiasts to ride. “We feel like we’re the black sheep in the community.”
Neighbouring landowner Tully Johnson, who runs a cow/calf operation, is concerned how the increased noise and activity of the motocross track is affecting his livestock.
“It’s agricultural land and it better stay that way. It should have never come to this point,” said Johnson. He was not the only one concerned for their livestock.
Kari Albers also owns a cow/calf operation and says the noise has her livestock pushing through fences to get away from the machines. In the past Albers says her family has been able to move among their cattle using quads but now they are so afraid of the vehicles it takes months to retrain them.
Branco Sr. said ATVs are common in the County of Wetaskiwin. “If it does not get passed to recreational my grandsons and granddaughters are still entitled to use that land to ride their quads or their dirt bikes. There’s a lot of farmers here who have quads, their grandkids have quads,” said Joe Branco.
“There has to be a lot of respect here. The recreation and the quality of life for the young generation to come has to be thought of,” he added.
Albers says with the negative effects the track has on her cattle, her children are losing their futures, livelihood and passions. “My eight year old daughter is in our cows every day with us. This is what she looks to spending the rest of her life doing.” Albers added if her cattle cannot safely use their summer pasture there is a chance she and her family will have to move.
Coun. Larry McKeever asked Andrew how many nights a week he was holding races on his track — one night per week last year. He also told council he is charging people to come and ride in the races.
“Why did you not look for recreational if that was your intent?” Reeve Kathy Rooyakkers asked.
Many of the landowners said they would not have a problem if the family was just using the track for themselves but with people being invited in they are concerned.
Andrew admitted to council he did nothing in the past by way of holding a community meeting to let his neighbours know of his plans. Rooyakkers told him that would have been a good place to start.
“You’ve already created a track and now you’re asking permission?” James Olson questioned.
Council agreed even with the land not being rezoned the Branco’s should already have gone through the motions for development permits.
“I’m a supporter of the vehicles. I cannot support his location through,” said McKeever.