Alberta Downs stays silent, awaiting approvals

Alberta Downs horse racing track owner Robert Allen can only watch as the sun rises and falls on another perfect construction day gone by the wayside.

Alberta Downs horse racing track owner Robert Allen can only watch as the sun rises and falls on another perfect construction day gone by the wayside.

And the pounding of hoof beats has fallen silent while he waits for critical environmental and building permit approvals.

It’s been a trying year for Allen, who rushed his track just outside Lacombe into operation in the spring to give harness racers a place to run, only to shut down two weeks early because of persistent frost-related problems. Before the final race days were cancelled, the track was drawing respectable crowds and generally good reviews from the harness racing crowd.

But the necessary approvals needed to finish his dream have been slow to come.

Allen said he is still waiting for Alberta Environment approval for water licences for wells and ponds on the site next to Hwy 2 just south of Hwy 12.

Those approvals are needed before a building permit will be issued by a separate agency to finish the grandstand, which stands partially constructed on the 142-acre site.

A development agreement must also be signed off with Lacombe County.

“I can’t do nothing, so I’m just sitting and waiting,” said Allen. “The process just takes that long, I guess.”

All of the necessary engineering work has been done and is in the hands of the government.

When the government issues its approvals, there will be a 30-day waiting period before he can begin any work.

“It’s just frustrating. All this good weather went by and you can’t do any construction.”

Earlier this summer, Allen talked of pursuing the Alberta Derby, an annual race for three-year-old thoroughbreds.

Before that race, the track would be put to the test with thoroughbred and quarter horse racing in late August.

“It just didn’t work out this year. I hope it’s going to work out next year. I’m sure it will.”

Allen hopes to see 50 days of racing at his track next year.

And there could still be some racing squeezed in this season. If he can get all his permits lined up, he wants to host eight days of harness racing in October.

The shell of the grandstand could go up this fall, which would give him the winter to finish the interior.

In the meantime, he’s working on landscaping. Hundreds of spruce trees have been planted.

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