The Natural Resources Conservation Board has cancelled approval of a controversial proposed poultry farm in Ponoka County.
The 95,000-broiler chicken operation was opposed by Ponoka County and a group of area residents because it was considered too close to Chain Lakes, a series of five linked lakes beginning a few kilometres southeast of Ponoka.
Ponoka County appealed the initial NRCB approval of the chicken operation on the grounds it fell within a 1.6-km setback from the lakes in the county’s Municipal Development Plan for new or expanding confined feeding operations.
The municipality argued the application by Zealand Farms owners Gerrie and Henk Krijger was in “direct contravention” of the plan and urged the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) to overturn the previous approval at a March hearing in Ponoka.
In a decision dated May 18, the NRCB accepts the county’s rationale for the setback, which was meant to protect areas with the most recreational and residential appeal.
“The board acknowledges that the targeting of areas within the municipality for development of small parcel or acreage development around land that has recreational potential reflects good planning,” says the decision from the three-person panel reviewing the January approval decision.
“The board accepts that establishing a buffer for new or expanded CFOs (confined feeding operations) that would extend one mile from the lakeshore of Chain Lakes is not excessive.”
The decision also notes that there is room on the Krijgers’ quarter section for the poultry operation outside the 1.6-km setback and they could make another application.
Gerrie Krijger said they have already purchased an existing chicken operation in the Morningside area south of Ponoka and that has been going well.
“We are really happy with it thankfully and how everything worked out,” she said, adding they have maintained good relations with their neighbours.
The Krijgers have not decided whether they would consider applying again for a poultry farm on the Chain Lakes quarter section, but outside the setback. The land remains useful for farming and manure spreading.
Ponoka County manager Charlie Cutforth applauded the NRCB decision and its recognition of the county’s planning efforts.
“I hope it sets precedent for future applications, in particular the principle that the planning documents that municipalities have in place need to be recognized and honoured,” said Cutforth.
He has some reservations, however, that the decision is based on a determination that the municipality’s rationale for the setback is sound.
That opens the door to ignoring a municipality’s planning documents if the board doesn’t agree with the reasoning, which leaves uncertainty in the process, he said.
To ensure that all regulators are on the same page for Chain Lakes, the county plans to work with Alberta Agriculture and the NRCB in drafting an area structure plan. It’s that kind of co-operation that may work best in the future, he said.
Friends of Chain Lakes Society president Bernice Edwards said the group was happy with the decision.
“I’m sure the most significant part is they (NRCB) have decided to comply with our Ponoka County’s municipal plan instead of overruling them,” said Edwards.
“To us in the community, that’s pretty significant that they have given us an ear instead of plowing forward.”
While residents raised concerns about water quality and the potential impact of manure spreading, the NRCB had previously ruled those issues had been adequately addressed by the approval officer.