Wetaskiwin County council has decided to table further discussion and decisions regarding wetlands, lakes, and setbacks for confined feeding operations (CFOs) until March 10, following a public hearing on Feb. 11.
“We can discuss the options but I”m not prepared to make a decision today,” said Coun. Lyle Seely.
Many representatives from various aspects of the public sector attended the public hearing to relay to councillors how amending the county’s Municipal Development Plan (MDP) would affect them; some are looking for council to increase or at least maintain the current setbacks while others want them decreased.
“CFOs are a more intensive form of agriculture,” said development officer Jarvis Grant.
He says a main concern of CFOs tend to be their environmental impact. “Livestock manure can contain a variety of potential contaminants.”
Susan Ellis, president of the Pigeon Lake Watershed Association, was the first from the gallery to take to the podium. She urged council to take into account all the other legislation regarding the issues at hand while making it’s decisions.
“I understand council, you don’t have a regional plan for your area,” said Ellis.
Other legislation that deal with wetland and water protection, setbacks and farming regulations include the Water Act, Alberta Public Lands Act, Agriculture Operations Practices Act and the Natural Resources Conservation Board.
“Wetlands are very complex,” said Ellis.
She told council 70 per cent of wetlands in Alberta have already been lost, a statistic echoed by others during the public hearing. “We cannot afford to lose anymore.”
“We recommend your council simply reference these acts in you MDP,” she added.
Jay White, with Aquality Environmental Consulting out of Edmonton, told council we was looking at the idea of amending the MDP with interest.
“We already have a wetland policy, we already have a Water Act. All wetlands are protected under the Water Act. Period,” said White.
“Wetlands are not currently defined in our MDP,” said assistant CAO Rod Hawken during the public hearing.
White said the Alberta Public Lands Act prohibits anyone, even on land they own, from disturbing ground in a manner that would result in injuring the beds or shores of permanent wetlands.
Stefan Kaiser was one of several farmers from the region who displayed a displeasure at the thought of setbacks being increased.
On the whole, those involved in agriculture operations had many of the same concerns over the issues.
Concerns included setbacks negatively affecting operations and inhibiting them from expanding; how farmers can be demonized when they too want and need healthy, sustainable water in the area to thrive; increased setbacks and restrictive areas increasing the difficulty on what is already hard to make a living from, farming; discouraging younger generations from getting into farming, and the fact that the legislation already in place to protect the environment and create a balance between it and CFOs will not be taken into account.
“It’s a bit disheartening .. . I just find it sad. Wetaskiwin has been a county that’s thrived on agriculture,” said Kaiser. “We can’t forget that Wetaskiwin was built of wheat and cattle.”
“Let’s protect the environment but let’s not restrict the lifeblood of the community,” he added.
Kaiser says there are many practices now in place that allow farmers to farm cleaner in ways that will help protect the environment. “It’s very costly but we’re willing to pay that cost.”
He feels the Natural Resources Conservation Board is already restrictive enough and ensures the safety measures needed. “We’re doing so much to protect the environment and we want sustainable farming.”
Before the public hearing was even underway one member of the audience, Kim Taylor, stood and asked if Coun. Keith Johnson would recuse himself, as she believed he had a personal interest in the matter.
When Johnson questioned her request she said she felt Johnson’s interest in a hog barn meant he should recuse himself.
“I considered putting up a hog barn, but that was three years ago,” said Johnson. “I will remain on.”